Due to financial pressures and safety concerns, prime minister Rishi Sunak has scrapped plans for future smart motorways. The PM states that this is ‘in recognition of the current lack of public confidence felt by drivers’.
The government had originally pressed pause on the project for five years to allow for a significant amount of safety data to be collected. A total of 11 other paused schemes from the current Road Investment Strategy 2020 – 2025 have also been cancelled, alongside three which were designated for future construction (RIS, 2025 – 2030).
According to the government, it would have cost more than £1bn to put these projects into action. In addition to the high cost, Sunak stated that the main reason for this cancellation is to bring back drivers’ trust in UK roads. Stopping the scheme will enable a longer period to track safety and build back up public confidence.
AA president, Edmund King, agrees with this approach, but believes hard shoulders need to be reinstated on existing all-lane running (ALR) smart motorways. He states: “drivers don’t trust them, the technology is not foolproof”. He also commented that 37% of breakdowns on smart motorways happen in live lanes.
Concerns were also raised by the RAC Foundation spokesman, Simon Williams, who has said the news is “a watershed announcement”. He detailed the danger of the motorway design if a car happened to break down, and said this is a “victory for everyone who has campaigned against these motorways”.
Margaret Winchcomb, deputy executive director of The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), mentioned the controversy of smart motorways and how this has “eroded public confidence in them”. However, she acknowledged how ALR motorways have fewer casualties than other roads, meaning “the benefits which could be gained from them have been lost”.
PACTS have also stated that Rishi Sunak has “recognised the importance of safe roads and acknowledged that without sufficient financial support, smart motorways cannot be safe enough”.