Banning smart motorways would "kill drivers" by forcing them onto unsafe roads, a government minister has said.
Baroness Vere, the roads minister, told MPs that the stretches of motorways that used the hard shoulder as an extra lane were safer than conventional roads and motorways as they eased congestion.
She also defended the Government’s decision to keep the system in place despite recent warnings from coroners over the deaths of drivers left stranded on smart motorways, saying a number of safety improvements have been made to them.
Her comments come after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced recently that no new smart motorways will be created unless they have the technology in place to spot when a broken-down motorists is unable to reach the sporadic safety bays that replace the hard shoulder.
A number of smart motorways were previously launched by Highways England without the monitoring system in place and the Government has given the organisation until March 2023 to ensure all have coverage.
Highways England has previously insisted smart motorways are the “safest roads in the country”. However, figures show there were 15 deaths on them in 2019, up from 11 in 2018.
Appearing in front of the transport select committee, Baroness Vere said she was “astonished” and “disappointed” by the way Highways England had handled the rollout of smart motorways.
However, she said smart motorways were safer than conventional roads as they gave drivers more space.
Baroness Vere said: “One of the things that makes all drivers more safe is to provide more capacity on our safest roads and that is what all-lane running motorways do.
“If you increase capacity on those roads they are our safest roads in terms of fatalities, as you take traffic off less safe roads.”
Ministers are facing pressure from the families of drivers who have been killed on smart motorways to scrap the initiative all together and reinstate hard shoulders.
However, Baroness Vere said she rejected such calls, as doing so would cost more drivers’ lives.
She said: “To those people who would say ‘I would just ban smart motorways and put back the hard shoulder’, I would say where are you going to push that traffic?
“Which less-safe road would you push that traffic to, and how many people is it okay to kill in order to do that?