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Government ‘ignoring’ smart motorway concerns

motorwaynotorway at night

MPs have urged government to stop ignoring safety concerns over all lane running schemes on motorways.

In a report released in June, the Transport Select Committee warned that government should not proceed with all lane running schemes while major safety concerns exist.

The All lane running report argued that the permanent conversion of the hard shoulder into a running lane is a radical change to the nature of motorways and creates a real challenge for motorists.

Government responded to the report in August and welcomed a number of the Committee’s “useful recommendations”, but defended its road safety record.

“The report makes a number of useful recommendations, some of which are already being acted upon. However, we are disappointed that several of the conclusions do not appear to be based on the evidence provided regarding safety,” it said.

“The government understand the concerns raised and some of the criticisms made, which we address in this document. We are not complacent about the safety of road users, which is of paramount importance.”

The Transport Select Committee has now published a further report in which it raises concerns that the government response “rejects the principal recommendations” that were outlined in the initial All lane running report.

“The Department for Transport is blatantly ignoring the safety concerns set out in our report. We had barely received the response to our report before the government endorsed an all lane running scheme on the M4,” commented chair of the Transport Select Committee Louise Ellman.

“The Committee isn’t arguing with the government about the need for more capacity on our motorways, or their statement that motorways are our safest roads. We support smart motorways such as the M42 scheme.

“But we take real issue with the government’s assertion that all lane running schemes on motorways are no different to other types of roads without hard shoulders. Motorways are a different class of road and drivers have different expectations when using them.

“In the same response, ministers recognise that the public needs to learn about variable speed limits and compliance with red X signals on these motorways. Even then, we believe that education will fail without enforcement and ministers need to ensure that failure to comply is backed up with effective enforcement.”

Ellman also expressed concerns over emergency refuge areas (ERA), which are located at frequent intervals along the hard shoulder and equipped with emergency phones and CCTV cameras.

“The Committee remains concerned about the size and spacing of emergency refuge areas. While we are pleased that Highways England has committed to a review, the M4 proposal should not have gone ahead until the review is complete,” said Ellman.

“We are not the only people who are worried about this incarnation of all lane running schemes. In the course of our inquiry, there were genuine concerns raised by the emergency services, road workers and recovery operators. The government cannot ignore them.”

Commenting on the government’s response to the Transport Select Committee’s report, Ceca head of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: “Smart motorways play an essential role in ensuring that the people across the country can get from A to B, and industry can rely upon goods being transported smoothly across the country.

“With national traffic levels predicted to rise, it is vital that our motorways don’t become a brake on our growing economy. We must ensure capacity is provided in a way that is affordable to the taxpayer.

“But we cannot do this if saving money makes our roads unsafe. For this reason, as both the builders and users of smart motorways, we have looked at the evidence.

“We believe that all lane running delivers much needed capacity in a way that secures, and even improves, the safety of the user.

“But we must not lose sight of the ability to improve further. Each year we are seeing advances in technology that are making the performance of smart motorways even more effective.”

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