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MPs say their smart motorway safety concerns are being ignored

29 Sep 16 The Department for Transport has been accused of riding roughshod over democracy and the people by ignoring the House of Commons transport select committee.

"The committee remains concerned..."
"The committee remains concerned..."

The transport committee is concerned that its findings on the development of smart motorways with no hard shoulders are not being considered by the government.

In a report published in June 2016, the transport select committee warned that government should not proceed with 'all-lane running' schemes while safety concerns exist. The transport committee, which exists to hold the Department for Transport to account on behalf of the electorate, argued that the permanent conversion of the hard shoulder into a running lane was a radical change and created new challenges for motorists.

Today it said: "We stand by our call for a halt in the rollout of all-lane running."

However, ministers are pressing ahead with all lane running schemes, ignoring the concerns expressed by MPs and others. Plans are in place to permanently convert the hard shoulder into a running lane on around 300 miles of motorway. Highways England has a programme of 30 all-lane running schemes to the value of £6bn over the next nine years.

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

“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.

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“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.

“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."

She added: “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."

However, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association disagrees with the MPs' analysis. “We believe that all-lane running delivers much needed capacity in a way that secures, and even improves, the safety of the user,” said its head of external affairs, Marie-Claude Hemming.

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