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  • A ‘smart motorway’ is a section of motorway that uses traffic management methods to increase capacity and reduce congestion in busy areas. For example, smart motorways use technology to: change the speed limit to smooth traffic flow; activate warning signs to alert drivers to traffic jams and hazards; and close lanes, for example, to allow emergency vehicles access. The first smart motorway opened on the M42 motorway in 2006.
  • Highways England has estimated that congestion on the motorway and the major road network in England costs £2 billion every year, with 25 percent of congestion resulting from incidents.
  • In October 2019, the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, announced that the Government would be conducting a review into smart motorway safety, amid concerns that people were dying on them. He stated that the Department for Transport would lead the review, which would include a stocktake of stopped vehicle detection systems. These systems alert operators to vehicles that have stopped on any stretch of road.
  • In January 2020, a freedom of information request by BBC Panorama to Highways England revealed that 38 people had died on smart motorways in the last five years. The figures also revealed that on one section of the M25 motorway, the number of near-misses had increased since the hard shoulder was removed in April 2014 from 72 in 2014 to 1,485 in 2019.
  • On 30 January 2020, in response to an oral question, Grant Shapps stated that the M20 and other stretches of road will not be opened as smart motorways as planned until the Government knows the outcome of the department’s review.
  • In the same month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Roadside Rescue and Recovery published a report into all lane running motorways; a type of smart motorway that permanently removes the hard shoulder and converts it into a running lane. The group concluded that the roll-out of these smart motorways should be halted until safety measures are put in place on all existing stretches of all lane running motorways. This includes retrofitting smart motorways with stopped vehicle detection systems.

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