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Smart Motorways are a technology-driven approach to tackling the most congested parts of the motorway network by increasing capacity and making journeys more reliable through controlling the flow and speed of traffic, with driver information displays provided on over-head gantries.

There are three types of smart motorway, one of which is All Lane Running (ALR), where the full width of the road is usable with emergency refuge areas (ERAs) alongside. Highways England (HE) developed ALR to enable a reduction in the amount of infrastructure necessary to implement a smart motorway scheme.

Since the inception of ALR schemes there have been concerns about their safety, in particular the permanent loss of the hard shoulder and the frequency of ERAs. Surveys of public opinion have consistently reflected these concerns. Some notable fatalities on ALR motorways in the past few years have also fuelled concerns about safety. HE has always maintained that smart motorways, including those with ALR, are no more dangerous than other motorways, and in some ways safer.

The Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, announced in October 2019 that he had asked the Department for Transport to carry out an evidence stocktake to gather the facts quickly and make recommendations on smart motorways. The DfT published the outcome of the stocktake and a forward action plan on 12 March 2020. Overall, the evidence showed that in most ways, smart motorways were as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones, but not in every way. In particular, the specific risk related to live lane breakdowns had increased and there was confusion over the different types of smart motorways.  The action plan published alongside the stocktake is intended to address these issues, to make smart motorways safer and provide greater public confidence in their use.

The Commons Library website contains briefings on other roads policy issues.


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