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Smart motorways: Put hard shoulder back and scrap ‘death trap’ roads, RAC urges government

Simon Calder’s Travel

The government has been urged to reinstate hard shoulders on Britain’s smart motorways after being accused of wasting money on the now-cancelled projects.

Exactly a year after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak scrapped all future planned smart motorway developments across the UK, the RAC is calling for either a permanent return of the hard shoulder or “dynamic” lanes which will see them only open to traffic during busy periods.

All-lane-running (ALR) smart motorways have no hard shoulder, with the existing safety lane converted into an extra running lane to add traffic capacity.

The system was introduced as a cheaper alternative to building more lanes and widening existing motorways, with a section of the M25 in Hertfordshire opened as the country’s first smart motorway in 2014.

However, there have been long-standing safety concerns after fatal incidents in which vehicles stopped in live lanes were hit from behind. One campaigner described the highways as “death traps”, while Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason died along with Alexandru Murgeanu when they were struck by a lorry after stopping on the M1 near Sheffield in June 2019, said any delays in reinstalling hard shoulders “continue to put thousands of lives at risk.”

In 2022, charges of corporate manslaughter were considered by South Yorkshire Police when concerns were raised by a coroner after 62-year-old grandmother Naris Begum died on a section of the M1 without a hard shoulder.

A National Highways report published in December revealed that smart motorways without a hard shoulder were three times more dangerous to break down on than those with an emergency lane.

An ‘emergency stopping area’ along a smart motorway section of the M3 (Steve Parsons/PA)

When he cancelled any further roll-out of the road schemes in 2023, Mr Sunak cited financial pressures and a lack of public confidence in the roads.

Simon Williams, RAC’s head of policy, said: “There is a real irony when it comes to talking about cost pressures in relation to these distinctly unpopular types of motorway.

“While heralded as a cost-effective way of increasing capacity on some of our busier roads, a colossal amount of public money has since gone into trying to make them safer – for instance by installing radar-based technology to detect stricken vehicles more quickly, plus the creation of additional…

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