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Call for ministers to ‘act now’ and end roll-out of ‘death trap’ smart motorways

Ministers have been urged to “act now” and end the roll-out of “death trap” smart motorways.

Concerns have been raised about them in recent months, because they do not have a hard shoulder.

This means that drivers who break down can be trapped in speeding traffic.

Image: Smart motorways are managed by Highways England

There are currently sections of smart motorway on parts of the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62.

They were were first introduced in England in 2014 and are built and managed by Highways England.


The aim of smart motorways is to keep traffic moving by converting the existing hard shoulder into an “active” fourth lane and controlling speed limits.

There are also emergency pull-ins, or refuges, in case a vehicle needs to stop, although campaigners say these are spread too far apart.

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Highways England insists they are safe, but the scheme has come in for sustained criticism.

Labour’s shadow transport minister Karl Turner said five people have been killed in just 10 months on a 16-mile stretch of the M1.

“It’s been clear for some time that all lane running motorways are death traps,” he told the Commons.

Mr Turner added: “The secretary of state has the power to scrap these dangerous motorways now, so will he stop this dither and delay, act now to avoid further tragic deaths and serious injuries?”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the roll-out cannot continue unless smart motorways are at least as safe as regular motorways.

“I think it is very important that we gather all the facts,” he said.

‘Smart motorways are so dangerous I’ve considered leaving my job’

“Sadly 1,700-plus people died in 2018 on all of our roads.

“Motorways are the safest of those roads and the question is are smart motorways less safe than the rest of the motorway network.

“For me, the answer is we must make them at least as safe, if not safer, otherwise they can’t continue.

“But we have to actually do this as a fact-based process.

“I am interested, rightly, in speaking to the families of victims and also all the other organisations like the AA, RAC, and honourable members of this House.

“So, it does take time to do this correctly, but I don’t think he’ll be disappointed with the results.”

Image: Smart motorways have screens that can light up to indicate lane closures

The Department for Transport launched a review into smart motorways in October and this inquiry is ongoing.

A report from the all-party parliamentary group for roadside rescue and recovery said the move towards smart motorways had been “shocking and careless” and had led to the deaths of road users.

Meanwhile, the former government minister who approved the roll-out has told BBC Panorama that he was misled about the risks.

Sir Mike Penning said: “They are endangering people’s lives.

“There are people that are being killed and seriously injured on these roads, and it should never have happened.”

An RAC survey in November found that just 9% of the more than 17,000 people questioned felt relaxed or safe driving on a smart motorway.


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