MPs want rollout of 'smart motorways' suspended amid safety concerns

MPs want the rollout of smart motorways suspended – but a widow whose husband died alongside a Mansfield man on the M1 says it is not enough.

Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 7:55 pm

A report by the Commons’ Transport Select Committee said there is not enough safety and economic data to justify continuing the project.

It described the Government’s decision in March 2020 that all future smart motorways would be all-lane-running versions – where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane – as ‘premature’.

But Claire Mercer, from Rotherham, whose husband Jason died on a stretch of ‘smart motorway’ near Sheffield in 2019, alongside Mansfield man Alexandru Murgeanu, says it is not enough and wants hard shoulders re-instating because of safety concerns.

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Traffic on a section of 'smart motorway' on the M1.

She said: “All it is is a recommendation, and more watered down from previous recommendations from that committee, all of which were ignored by the Government.

"I’m not taking much hope from this, and that is why we are still having to protest over this issue, and why we’re taking the Government to judicial review to try to get ‘smart motorways’ banned.”

Concerns have been raised following fatal incidents involving broken-down vehicles being hit from behind.

Jason Mercer, 44, left, from Rotherham and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, from Mansfield, were killed when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into them on the M1 smart motorway near Sheffield.

The TSC urged ministers to ‘consider alternative options for enhancing capacity’ on motorways.

Controlled smart motorways – which have a permanent hard shoulder and use technology to regulate the speed and flow of traffic – have the ‘lowest casualty rates’ of all roads across motorways and major A roads in England, the report noted.

It called for the Department for Transport to ‘revisit the case’ for installing them instead of all-lane running motorways, which have no hard shoulder.

The report recommended emergency refuge areas are retrofitted to existing all-lane running motorways to make them 0.75 miles apart ‘where physically possible’, and a maximum of one mile apart.

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Huw Merriman, committee chairman, said: “Looking at the available evidence, smart motorways do appear to be safer than conventional motorways even once the hard shoulder is removed.

“However, this evidence is also open to question. Only 29 miles of these all-lane running smart motorways have operated for more than five years.

“It therefore feels too soon, and uncertain, to use this as an evidence base to remove the hard shoulder from swathes of our motorway network.”

A DfT spokesman said: “We welcome the committee’s scrutiny and will now consider its recommendations in detail, providing a formal response in due course.

“This is a serious piece of work which we will engage with closely in the months ahead.

“We’re pleased the TSC recognises reinstating the hard shoulder on all all-lane running motorways could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death and serious injury and that we’re right to focus on upgrading their safety.”

The said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is ‘absolutely committed’ to making smart motorways as safe as possible.

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.

Mr Murgeanu, aged 22, and 44-year-old Mr Mercer died when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into their vehicles after they stopped on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield without a hard shoulder.

Szuba, 40, from Hull, was jailed for 10 months in October 2020 after admitting causing the deaths of Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu by careless driving.

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