The Department for Transport (DfT) is pausing the rollout of smart motorways for five years while collecting data on the existing network and investing £900 million to improve safety.
The changes are in step with recommendations from the Transport Select Committee, which recommended stopping the rollout of smart motorways or all-lane running (ALR) motorways in November 2021.
At the time the Committee said the rollout should be stopped “until safety can be delivered and assured”.
After five years, the Government will assess the data collected from the existing network and then make an informed decision on next steps.
The DfT will now start investing £390m to install more than 150 additional Emergency Areas on the existing smart motorway network so drivers have more places to stop if they get into difficulty.
The DfT said this will represent around a 50% increase in places to stop by 2025, giving drivers added reassurance.
As concluded by the Committee, evidence suggests hard shoulders do not always provide a safe place to stop, and by reducing motorway capacity, they could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death or serious injury if they were to divert onto less safe local roads.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “One of my first actions as Transport Secretary was to order a stocktake of smart motorways and since then, I have worked consistently to raise the bar on their safety.
“I am grateful to the Transport Committee and to all those who provided evidence for its work.
“While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.
“Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multi-million-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps.
“I want thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns.”
Nick Harris, National Highways chief executive, confirmed that while any new smart motorway construction will be paused, those that have already started will be completed.
Harris said: "We will make existing sections as safe as they can possibly be and we will step up our advice to drivers so they have all the information they need.
“We are doing this because safety is our absolute priority and we want drivers to not just be safer, but also to feel safe on our busiest roads.”
"I'll continue to challenge the DfT"
Independent road safety campaigner, Meera Naran, whose 8-year-old son Dev, died in a motorway crash on the M6 in 2018, welcomed the pause of the rollout and said the five year safety review would provide a "positive opportunity to assess the future of our motorway network".
Naran said: "I’m encouraged by the commitment of £900m to improve the safety of our motorways, following my campaigning since Dev died.
"However, I’ll continue to both challenge and work alongside the DfT to ensure even more is done, including calling for legislation to be looked at for Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) and further support for on-going driver education."
While the DfT will be taking forward all the recommendations set out in the Committee’s recommendations, it does not agree with the view that smart motorways were rolled out prematurely or unsafely.
The DfT said: "All ALR smart motorway schemes are, and will continue to be, subject to high standards of design, risk assessment and construction, followed by detailed monitoring and evaluation once opened to traffic."
Also, in line with the Committee's recommendations, National Highways will pause the conversion of Dynamic Hard Shoulder (DHS) motorways – where the hard shoulder is open at busy times – into All Lane Running motorways, while it investigates alternative ways of operating them to make things simpler for drivers.
National Highways will also install technology to detect stopped vehicles on these sections.