Plans for 11 smart motorways are AXED amid safety fears over ‘death trap’ roads without a hard shoulder that have been blamed for 24 deaths and scores of accidents
Ministers halted the rollout of 120 miles of smart motorway last night as safety fears about the ‘death trap’ roads continued to grow after 24 deaths and scores of accidents.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said £390million would be spent on building 150 extra emergency laybys so drivers whose vehicles have broken down don’t have to stop in live traffic.
It will boost the number of laybys on smart motorways by about 50 per cent and mean they are no more than a mile apart.
Currently they are up to 1.5 miles apart, which motoring groups warn is unsafe.
The development is a victory for the Daily Mail, which has campaigned for better safety on the controversial roads.
The decision follows a recommendation by the Commons Transport Select Committee which said there was not enough safety and economic data to justify continuing with the project.
Campaigner: Claire Mercer’s husband died on a live lane
In a November 2 report, the committee described the Government’s decision in March 2020 that all future smart motorways would be all-lane-running versions as ‘premature’.
Concerns have been raised following fatal incidents involving broken-down vehicles being hit from behind due to a lack of a hard shoulder.
The Government has pledged to improve safety on existing all-lane-running motorways, but relatives of people who have died on the roads have urged ministers to go further by reinstating the hard shoulder.
Mr Shapps said he was adopting the report’s recommendations in full.
Projects planned for the M3, M40, M62 and M25 will be put on hold and others already underway will continue until complete.
Technology used to spot stranded cars will also be tested more rigorously.
Mr Shapps said: ‘While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.
‘Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multimillion-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps.’
The conversion of seven dynamic hard shoulder motorways, where the hard shoulder is open at busy times, to all-lane-running motorways is also being paused, while alternative ways of operating them are being examined.
But despite halting the construction of 120 miles of ‘all-lane-running’ (ALR) smart motorway – in which the hard shoulder is replaced with a lane in permanent use, a further 100 miles will go ahead because these stretches are more than 50 per cent complete and it was deemed safer to finish them.
The 120 miles will be paused until April 2024 so five years of safety data can be collected from more than 200 miles of schemes before a decision is made on whether it is safe to roll out new ALR roads.
The delayed schemes are made up of stretches totalling 60 miles on each carriageway.
CAMPAIGNER WHOSE YOUNG SON DIED ON SMART MOTORWAY WELCOMES ROLLOUT PAUSE
A mother who lost her son in a collision has said she welcomes a pause in the smart motorway rollout but has vowed to continue campaigning until there are zero deaths on the roads.
Meera Naran said the halted expansion would give time to ‘reassess’ the smart motorway network and the network ‘as a whole’ as there are ‘risks and benefits’ to both smart motorways and conventional motorways with hard shoulders.
Her eight-year-old son Dev died on a hard shoulder after a lorry struck his grandfather’s Toyota Yaris on the M6 in May 2018.
Since his death, she has campaigned in his memory and was awarded an MBE in June last year for her services to road safety.
Ms Naran told the PA news agency: ‘I welcome the pause in the rollout of smart motorways, I think it’s going to give us time to reassess the smart motorway network, also reassess the network as a whole.
‘There are risks with smart roadways and benefits as well, but there are also risks and benefits with conventional motorways with hard shoulders and I think it’ll give us a real opportunity to look at both.’
Becoming emotional as she spoke about her son, she added: ‘We always believed in making change for the good. That was always our motto and it continues to be my motto.
‘I campaign in Dev’s memory and his name. He wanted to be a doctor and save lives and I’m campaigning for road safety and I only can hope and pray it will also save lives as well.’
The Department for Transport has also committed £900 million on existing all-lane-running (ALR) motorways, including £390 million to install 150 more emergency areas.
The university lecturer said she was pleased to see the commitment to the emergency refuge areas, as she has been campaigning for that since day one, and the additional technology which detects stopped vehicles.
‘In addition to that, I have proposed some additional changes,’ she said.
‘One being a change in legislation around autonomous emergency braking, which is also called AEB, and I’ve also proposed for that to be called Dev’s Law.
‘With the autonomous emergency braking system, that would save so many lives going forward. This is not just about smart motorways anymore, it’s about all roads and every life matters on our roads.
‘I will not see a victory until we have zero deaths on our roads. Whether that (means) I campaign for the rest of my life, so be it.’
Responding to the £900 million pledge, she said: ‘It’s been incredibly emotional losing Dev, it’s so hard. There’s no words to ever explain how that feels. Campaigning through grief is no easy task either.
‘However, in 2020 when I proposed 19 policy changes, there was some reassurance with the 18-point action plan, which implemented 18 out of my 19 proposals with a £500 million commitment.
‘To see this additional amount being added to a total of nearly £900 million is absolutely welcome and I think it’s really reassuring.’
Mr Shapps also agreed to consider letting the Office of Rail and Road sign off all new roads on health and safety grounds.
The watchdog will also review radar technology meant to detect vehicles marooned in live lanes within 20 seconds. Officials claim it isn’t effective.
He will also re-evaluate dynamic hard shoulder and controlled motorways. The former have a hard shoulder used as a live line intermittently, while the latter retain a hard shoulder but use variable speed limits.
AA president Edmund King said: ‘At last we have a Transport Secretary who has taken a positive and pragmatic approach.’
But he added: ‘The AA view remains that controlled motorways with a hard shoulder are the safest option.’
Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of roads policy, said the decision was ‘an unqualified victory for drivers’.
Claire Mercer, who blames smart motorways for her husband’s death, hailed it as a positive move, but said all motorways should have a hard shoulder.
Her husband Jason, 44, died in June 2019 when a lorry hit him on the M1 where the hard shoulder had been turned into a live lane.
Mr Mercer and delivery driver Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, were involved in a shunt, and were struck and killed when they stopped to exchange details.
Mrs Mercer, 45, said: ‘The undercover report the Daily Mail did was a massive stepping stone in the campaign and proved… these roads really are as dangerous as we said they were.’
While today’s report does not go as far as she would like, she added: ‘At least it will save lives.’
She called the Government announcement a ‘sticking plaster’ and a missed opportunity, adding: ‘They’d take lots more steps a lot more quickly if it was their loved ones that were being killed or maimed.’
Mrs Mercer, from Rotherham, said policymakers did not need any further analysis to conclude that smart motorways were deadly and said transport secretary Grant Shapps needed to order all lane one running to be halted, effectively recreating hard shoulders.
‘It’s never needed any of these reviews, any of these investigations,’ she told the PA news agency.
‘It didn’t work. It killed people. They need to stop killing people.’
Mrs Mercer said she welcomed the pause, but said it fell well short of her objective of a complete reversal of the smart motorway policy.
She said: ‘At least there will be marginally less casualties between now and then.’
But she added: ‘All they ever needed to do is flick a switch.
‘I’m from an engineering background and if you think a machine is faulty you turn it off before you investigate it.
‘We have had review after review after review into smart motorways and never once have they turned off the first lane while they investigate them.
‘Just turn off lane one and you’ve got your hard shoulder back. You just need to thrown one switch at eight control centres and you’ve got your hard shoulder back immediately.’
Sheffield coroner David Urpeth told an inquest that ‘a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy’ and that smart motorways ‘present an ongoing risk of future deaths’.
Mrs Mercer has said the wrong person had been jailed when lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba was given a 10-month sentence in 2020.
She said: ‘They just keep saying let’s talk about it.
‘Stop sitting there talking about this while people are dying.
‘It’s so easy to turn the first lane off while they investigate it and they’ve never wanted to do that.’
She said: ‘You just need to know that people are dying in situations where they weren’t dying before.
‘They’ve drastically changed something and more people are dying.
‘It’s a simple as… if you had to stop on a motorway, would you rather it was in a live running lane or on a hard shoulder?
‘You don’t need lots of stats and analysis.’
Mrs Mercer (pictured) said she thought the select committee report and the Government’s response were a ‘disappointment’ and agreed they were missed opportunities
Mrs Mercer said she thought the select committee report and the Government’s response were a ‘disappointment’ and agreed they were missed opportunities.
She said: ‘There’s been missed opportunities every single day since they’ve realised they’ve done something wrong.’
And she added: ‘It’s all just compromises and sticking plasters. It’s not going to sort the situation. They’re just continuing to thrown good money after bad.’
Mrs Mercer said: ‘They’re under a lot of pressure from large private contractors to keep smart motorways going.’
She described the response as ‘tweak it a bit, change this, change that, but pretty much carry on’.
Pictured: Claire Mercer and husband Jason who died on a smart motorway
And asked if it was a missed opportunity, she said: ‘Definitely. There’s been missed opportunities every single day since they’ve realised they’ve done something wrong.’
Mrs Mercer is campaigning for a judicial review into smart motorways and she said she thought the main impact of Wednesday’s announcement was that it would force the Government to engage with this legal action.
Her comments were echoed by Conservative MP Sir Mike Penning who claims he was misled when he supported the rollout of smart motorways in his role as roads minister from 2010-2012.
He said: ‘It seems illogical to me to decide to pause the rollout of new all-lane-running (ALR) sections on the basis that more safety data is needed but to allow existing ALR sections to continue to operate.
‘Surely, the existing sections should be rapidly reconfigured to keep the left-hand lane as a kind of hard shoulder.’
Tory MP Karl McCartney (pictured), who sits on the transport committee, said hard shoulders should be reinstated, adding: ‘The report did not go far enough. Hard shoulders are there for a reason’
Tory MP Karl McCartney, who sits on the transport committee, said hard shoulders should be reinstated, adding: ‘The report did not go far enough. Hard shoulders are there for a reason.’
Fellow committee member Greg Smith said: ‘I’m deeply sceptical of the safety of all-lane running and so-called smart motorways.
‘Roads must be safe, and I just don’t see how all lane running possibly can be.’
Former roads minister Sir Mike Penning said: ‘The Government has not gone far enough.
‘It seems illogical to pause the rollout of new ALR sections on the basis that more safety data is needed, but allow existing sections to operate.
‘Either we are happy that ALR is safe or we’re not.’
But Mr Shapps rejected reinstating hard shoulders, insisting it would lead to more deaths by pushing up to 25 per cent of traffic on to dangerous smaller roads.
He pointed out that the transport committee had not called for hard shoulders to be reinstated.
Mr Shapps rejected reinstating hard shoulders, insisting it would lead to more deaths by pushing up to 25 per cent of traffic on to dangerous smaller roads. Pictured: A smart motorway
He told the Mail: ‘There will be campaigners who say ‘No, no, no, just go back to reinstating the hard shoulder,’ but the committee didn’t think that was a good idea.
‘Although people think they’re safe, they’re not.
‘One in 12 fatalities take place on the hard shoulder.’
He acknowledged, however, the data was ‘incomplete’ on whether ALR motorways were safe.
He said: ‘We don’t have enough, so we will pause for five years’ data as per the committee request and then be able to reassess it.’
Smart motorways were first introduced in England in 2014 as a cheaper way of increasing capacity compared with widening carriageways.
There are about 375 miles of smart motorway in England, including 235 miles without a hard shoulder.
Shapps gives undercover report ‘huge credit’
By Transport Correspondent for the Daily Mail
The Daily Mail’s investigation into smart motorways was praised by Grant Shapps last night after he agreed it had highlighted dangerous flaws – and that it could save lives.
The Transport Secretary said the Mail deserved ‘huge credit’ for sending an undercover reporter into a CCTV control centre in South Mimms, Hertfordshire, responsible for smart sections of the M25, M1 and M4.
He said our findings ‘spurred us to move faster’ and announce yesterday’s safety measures. Among our revelations last year was that more than one in ten safety cameras were broken, misted up or facing the wrong way.
CCTV: Smart motorway camera operator
His own subsequent probe found 14 per cent of cameras – which spot drivers stranded in live lanes of traffic – were out of action.
Mr Shapps said: ‘I was very concerned to read the Mail investigation. What your reporter found about cameras, it’s true. I don’t think that’s good enough. If we’re calling it smart, it damn well needs to be smart. Those cameras need to be fixed immediately.
‘What your investigation showed was the safety culture needs to be in a completely different place.
‘The Mail is due huge credit for backing up something that I think a lot of motorists, myself included, would be concerned about.
‘The Mail has done a great service to the public and motorists.
‘Your actions… will undoubtedly save loved ones in the future.’
The Mail, Sep 27, 2021