MPs accuse road bosses of a ‘shocking degree of carelessness’ over smart motorway roll-out as they demand a three-year pause for safety checks
- MPs urging Highways England to halt construction of new roads for three years
- In a searing report, they described the scheme as a ‘gross public policy failure’
- Highways England has said smart motorways are safer than normal motorways
- The inquiry said this lack of a hard shoulder makes smart motorways dangerous
Road bosses were last night accused of ‘a shocking degree of carelessness’ over the roll-out of smart motorways.
Furious MPs are urging Highways England to halt construction of the new roads for three years so safety improvements can be made.
In a searing report released last night, they described the scheme as a ‘gross public policy failure’ which puts millions of lives at risk.
Highways England has spent years insisting smart motorways – roads where the hard shoulder is used as a regular traffic lane to ease congestion – are safer than normal motorways because they are built with regularly-spaced refuges where drivers can stop.
Furious MPs are urging Highways England to halt construction of the new roads for three years so safety improvements can be made. Pictured: Traffic on the M1
But the damning inquiry said this lack of a hard shoulder makes smart motorways among the most dangerous roads in the world for breakdown crews.
And motoring groups claim the new roads are death traps which leave many drivers with no choice but to stop in the path of fast-moving traffic.
A total of 38 drivers died on smart motorways in the last five years after becoming stranded in this way, according to a BBC Panorama investigation.
Figures show 38 per cent of smart motorway break downs occur in a lane that is open to traffic – compared to 20.4 per cent on normal motorways.
Some 19,316 motorists broke down in a live lane on a smart motorway in 2017 and 2018. They had to wait an average of 17 minutes to be spotted on CCTV – and 17 more to be rescued.
Grant Shapps ordered a review of smart motorways after a series of fatal collisions. The findings are due to be published this week
The inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for roadside rescue and recovery said the figures vindicated long-standing fears that smart motorways were not as safe as conventional roads, and amounted to a ‘gross public policy failure’.
It added that the implementation of smart motorways ‘has been conducted with a shocking degree of carelessness’.
The report also criticised Highways England for failing to follow through on a promise to install life-saving stopped vehicle detection technology.
In 2016 the authority promised the radar system, which costs up to £200,000 per kilometre, would be installed on the entire smart motorway network. But it was only used on two sections of the M25 – just 25 of the 400 miles of smart motorway nationwide.
THE SHOCKING DEATHS
AUGUST 2017: Jamil Ahmed, 36, was killed on the M6 when a lorry hit his car while stuck on a live hard shoulder
MAY 2018: Dev Naran, eight, was killed on the M6 when a lorry ploughed into the back of his grandfather’s car, which was stranded on a hard shoulder open to live traffic
MARCH 2019: Retired engineer Derek Jacobs, 83, was killed when a coach hit his Volkswagen Crafter on the M1 in Derbyshire
JUNE 2019: Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, and Jason Mercer, 44, died on the M1 after a lorry crashed into them as they stopped on the hard shoulder
Highways England said it would take three years to expand it across the country – and its chief has admitted lives have been lost because of delays in introducing the technology.
MPs also want to more than double the number of emergency refuge areas so drivers are never more than 800m away from safety. Refuges are currently separated by as much as 1.5miles between each stop.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the gaps between emergency refuges are ‘almost certainly too far apart’ and added: ‘People need to be passing these every 60 seconds.’
The AA has banned its breakdown crews from stopping in live lanes due to the risks posed. Sir Mike Penning MP, former minister for road safety and chairman of the APPG, said the motorways ‘do not resemble the designs I signed off as roads minister’ and added that the roll-out ‘must stop immediately’.
A Highways England spokesman said: ‘Any death on our roads is one too many, and our deepest sympathies remain with the family and friends of those who lost their lives.’
Mr Shapps ordered a review of smart motorways after a series of fatal collisions. The findings are due to be published this week.