The government has confirmed it will end the rollout of so-called ‘smart motorways’ in the UK amid ongoing safety concerns. The Department for Transport (DfT) had already paused the implementation of the roads, which see the hard shoulder replaced with a ‘live’ lane, to gather more data on their safety.

Now, though, the government has said all new schemes will be “removed from the government’s road-building plans”. The DfT’s statement said the move was being made due to “cost pressures” and “in recognition of the current lack of public confidence” in the systems.

That means 11 new smart motorway schemes that had already been “paused” will not go ahead, while three schemes earmarked for construction between 2025 and 2030 will be cancelled. However, while no new stretches will be converted, existing work to convert the M56 between junctions six and eight and the M6 between junction 21a and 26 will go ahead as planned, because they are “already over three-quarters constructed”.

UK smart motorway network

The DfT and National Highways, the organisation in charge of the UK’s major road network, have said they will “continue to invest” in safety improvements on existing stretches of smart motorway, with around £900 million already set aside for modifications. These include installing stopped vehicle detection technology on every existing all-lane running smart motorway and adding 150 more emergency areas across the network by 2025. The two organisations will also invest in “giving motorists clear advice when using existing smart motorways”.

Motoring organisations including the RAC and AA welcomed the news, with both companies describing the decision as a “victory”. AA president Edmund King said: “For a decade I’ve been banging on the doors of a dozen Transport Secretaries and Ministers telling them about the deadly dangers of ‘smart’ motorways. I welcome the decision that all new future ‘smart’ motorways planned will be scrapped. This is a victory for common sense and safety, which I whole-heartedly welcome.”

Meanwhile RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said smart motorways put drivers in “more danger” if they break down, and his organisation was pleased the decision had been made.

“Our research shows all lane running smart motorways are deeply unpopular with drivers so we're pleased the government has finally arrived at the same conclusion,” he said. “It's now vitally important that plans are made for making the hundreds of existing miles of these types of motorway as safe as possible.”

M25 London Orbital Motorway near Junction 18 in Hertfordshire UK