The government’s decision to roll out all-lane running on smart motorways was “premature” and the programme should be “paused” until 2025 to properly assess its safety, according to a damning report published this week by the House of Commons Transport Committee.

The report follows the Committee’s enquiry into the safety of smart motorways, which was launched after mounting concern at the mounting numbers of deaths of motorists whose vehicles had broken down on all-lane running smart motorways.

The Transport Committee’s report condemns the DfT and National Highways for failing to implement safety measures that the committee recommended in 2016 and calls for a moratorium on the rollout of new all-lane running schemes “until five years of safety and economic data is available for every all-lane running scheme introduced before 2020".

It also wants an independent evaluation of National Highways’ smart motorway safety improvements.

However, whilst the report notes that dynamic hard shoulder motorways “confuse drivers”, it stops short of recommending the reinstatement of hard shoulders on all lane running schemes, pointing to evidence suggesting that could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death and serious injury. Instead it concludes that the government is “right to focus on upgrading the safety of all-lane running motorways”.

The report also recommends the DfT revisit the case for controlled motorways which retain the hard shoulder and have technology to regulate traffic, noting that these have the lowest casualty rates of all the types of UK motorways.

It adds: “The Department must carefully consider how the business case for controlled motorways compares with that for all-lane running motorways.”

It calls for the DfT and National Highways to pause plans to convert dynamic hard shoulder motorways until the next Road Investment Strategy in 2025 and use the intervening period to trial alternative ways in which to operate the dynamic hard shoulder to make the rules less confusing for drivers.

The DfT and National Highways are also strongly criticised for implementing inadequate safety improvements which were “neither efficient or effective” following an earlier committee enquiry into all-lane running in 2016 when MPs expressed “deep scepticism” about the programme.

It adds: “Although we welcome the department’s belated acceleration of safety improvements to all-lane running motorways, it is regrettable that the government should find itself in this position.

“Safety risks on all-lane running motorways, such as those raised by our predecessor Committee in 2016, should have been addressed before those motorways were rolled out.”

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The committee's key recommendations are:

• Pause the roll out of the all-lane running programme

• Any motorway design and operational changes undergo a safety and economic assessment by the Office of Road and Rail “to guard against the introduction of such unsafe changes”.

• The retrofitting of emergency refuge areas to existing all-lane running motorways to make them a maximum of one mile apart, decreasing to every 0.75 miles where physically possible;

• Commission of the Office of Rail and Road to conduct an independent evaluation of the effectiveness and operation of stopped vehicle technology;

• The addition of the emergency corridor manoeuvre into the Highway Code to help emergency services and traffic patrol officers to access incidents when traffic is congested.

It also recommends that the Office of Rail and Road be tasked with evaluating how successful the action plan has been in:

• reducing incidences of live lane breakdowns on all-lane running motorways;

• reducing the time for which people who breakdown or stop in a live lane are at risk; and

• educating drivers on what to do if they breakdown in a live lane.

RHA policy director Duncan Buchanan welcomed the report but cautioned against a five-year moratorium.

He said: “We support the idea of smart motorways but the committee is right that they need to be made safer. We do not need a five-year pause while data is gathered. We know what needs to be done and that needs to happen now.”