'Nothing off limits' in smart motorway safety investigation, MP tells ITV News Meridian

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A group of MPs is to investigate the safety surrounding smart motorways.

The Transport Select Committee, led by Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman, will also analyse how much impacts the roads have in reducing congestion.

Speaking to ITV News Meridian, he said 'nothing will be off limits'.

Smart motorways, where the hard shoulder is replaced with a running lane to increase capacity, are either in place or in construction on the M20 in Kent, the M25, the M23 in Sussex, the M27 in Hampshire and M3 through Hampshire and Surrey.

On the M4 in Berkshire, the first phase of the converted carriageway will be completed next month

Smart motorway safety in the spotlight again and the action plan to improve it

Since their introduction in 2002 smart motorways have been controversial.

In recent weeks the safety has been in the spotlight again with campaigners leading the call for them to be ’scrapped’.

Part of the smart motorway on the M3 Credit: ITV Meridian

A coroner in Sheffield said smart motorways "present an ongoing risk of future deaths" after two people died when a lorry driver ploughed into their vehicles while they were stationary on the M1 in South Yorkshire.

Watch: Advice for driving on a smart motorway.

Credit: Highways England

A smart motorway sign on the M23 in Sussex Credit: ITV Meridian

In March 2020 an 18-point action plan was produced to improve smart motorway safety.

That included increasing the use of stopped vehicle detection, a specialist radar technology which picks up if a vehicle has broken down in 20 seconds. 

Refuge areas for drivers in difficulty no longer than a mile apart along with increased awareness are among some of the other promises.Highways England say smart motorways are generally are as safe as conventional motorways however also say that in future projects there will be a smaller distance between refuges.Transport Secretary Grant Shapps previously told MPs that he "inherited" smart motorways, and pledged to get "get rid of confusions”.

Huw Merriman MP is chair of the Transport Select Committee Credit:

The Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP, said:

"The Department for Transport says Smart Motorways help us cope with a 23 per cent rise in traffic since 2000, helping congestion. The Department’s own Stocktake report points to lower fatal casualty rates for smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder than on motorways with a hard shoulder. The serious casualty rate is slightly higher.

 "This message isn’t reaching the public, whose confidence in smart motorways has been dented by increasing fatalities on these roads. Road safety charities are also expressing concerns. Will enhanced safety measures help? Will the public accept them following an awareness campaign? Or should there be a rethink of government policy?"

“There are genuine worries about this element of the motorway network and we want to investigate how we got to this point.”

A smart motorway emergency refuge area Credit: Highways England/PA

Edmund King, AA president, said: "Coroners, and indeed police and crime commissioners, have voiced serious safety concerns with 'smart' motorways, which makes this inquiry very timely."For more than a decade the AA has campaigned to improve the safety of smart motorways. Tragically, too many people have died on these roads in the interim. 

"Hopefully this inquiry will concentrate minds to stress the urgency of safety improvements."