Britain’s network of smart motorways – where drivers can use the hard shoulder – is being urgently reviewed by the government after it was discovered that it resulted in 20 times more near-misses on the M25 London ring road alone.
The death toll on stretches of smart or managed motorways has reached 38 in the last five years, including many in accidents that motoring organisations believe were avoidable after breakdowns.
Smart motorways bring extra capacity on congested motorways, but many motorists report feeling unsafe, with far more breakdowns ending up with cars trapped in live lanes of fast-moving traffic.
About 200 miles of motorway in Britain have been converted to “smart running”, where the hard shoulder is used as an extra lane when motorists are instructed by electronic signs on overhead gantries.
A freedom of information request by the BBC Panorama programme, to be broadcast on Monday night, found that in five years before one section of the M25 was converted into a smart motorway there were just 72 near-misses. In the five years after conversion, there were 1,485 such dangerous incidents. Panorama’s investigation also revealed that one of the electronic warning signs was out of action for 336 days.
The AA motoring organisation, which has led calls to scrap or alter smart motorways, issued a poll showing just 9% of drivers felt relaxed or safe when using them.
Edmund King, the AA president, said the current system was not fit for purpose. He added: “The real scandal is the avoidable deaths – people who have broken down in a live lane and been unable to move until a vehicle has ploughed into the back of them.”
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, told the BBC: “We absolutely have to have these as safe or safer as regular motorways or we shouldn’t have them at all.”
AA sounds safety warning over smart motorways
It is understood Shapps has asked Department for Transport officials to review evidence on the safety of smart motorways, with recommendations expected to follow soon.
The government is also understood to be considering introducing more radar detection systems to identify vehicles broken down on the hard shoulder, as well as building more emergency lay-bys.
Research by the AA suggests it takes an average of 17 minutes for highway authorities to spot a stopped vehicle, and then another 17 minutes for emergency vehicles to reach the scene. “You spend an average of more than half an hour sitting there in a broken-down vehicle praying,” said the AA.
“Meanwhile, some of the extra capacity is being negated because people are terrified to drive on the inside lane, for fear of a broken down vehicle ahead.”
King said the scheme was rolled out on the back of trials on the M42 near Birmingham, but that the same level of protection had not been replicated elsewhere – particularly the distance between emergency refuge areas, where vehicles in distress can stop in the absence of a hard shoulder. On the M42 pilot, the areas were 500-600 metres apart, compared with 2,500 metres on other smart motorways.
His concerns were echoed by a former government minister, who approved the roll-out of smart motorways. Sir Mike Penning agreed to the expansion in 2010 while a junior transport minister, after the successful pilot.
Now, however, Penning has told Panorama that smart motorways are endangering people’s lives. He said: “There are people that are being killed and seriously injured on these roads, and it should never have happened.”
MPs led by Penning are due to publish a report on Tuesday that will accuse Highways England of “a shocking degree of carelessness” in implementing the motorway system. The all-party parliamentary group for roadside rescue and recovery will call for a moratorium on conversion of motorways until their safety is proven.
Source: Read Full Article