The UK government has paused all ongoing ‘smart motorway’ development schemes, as it awaits the results of a review into their safety. 

The move, announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps yesterday in the House of Commons, means that a £92 million project to convert a stretch of the M20 in Kent into a smart motorway has been put on hold, and could be axed entirely. It will not open as a smart motorway before the results of the review are made public, but a date for this has not been given by the Department for Transport. 

“That stretch of the M20 and all other stretches currently being worked on will not be opened until we have the outcome,” Mr Shapps told MPs. The works, which have been underway for two years, were anticipated to finish in March.

Other roads affected include a lengthy section of the M23 between Gatwick Airport and the M25, part of the M6 near Coventry and a 10-mile stretch of the M62 in Greater Manchester. 

The transport secretary’s decision follows Highways England’s confirmation, earlier this week, that 38 people have been killed in crashes on smart motorways in the past five years.

The announcement came in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the BBC’s Panorama programme. It was the first time Highways England, which manages the country’s road infrastructure, has reported the total number of deaths.

Smart motorways have come under heavy criticism in the five years since they were first trialled in the West Midlands in 2006. The removal of the hard shoulder to improve traffic flow means broken-down vehicles unable to reach a refuge area are forced to remain stationary in ‘live’ lanes, with no protection against oncoming traffic.