The transport secretary is finalising ‘a serious package of measures’ to tackle concerns over the safety of smart motorways, MPs have been told.
During a House of Commons debate on all lane running (ALR) schemes, in which the hard shoulder is removed to create an extra lane, transport minister George Freeman stated that the outcome of a government ‘stocktake’ of smart motorways would be made public imminently.
The minister said: ‘I totally accept that there are real issues…not least of which are refuge placement and ensuring that we have full CCTV coverage so we are able properly and quickly to monitor vehicles that are in trouble and ensure that they are dealt with properly.’
He added that if a stationary vehicle detection system ‘is the prerequisite, we need to put it everywhere and ensure that it works properly’.
The debate was called by Rotherham MP Sarah Champion, whose constituent, Jason Mercer, was killed in June last year on an ALR section of the M1 in South Yorkshire, having been involved in a minor collision and ‘forced to stop in a live lane to exchange details’. Both men died after being hit by a lorry.
Ms Champion described the Department for Transport’s view that ALR schemes are safer than traditional motorways as ‘based on the twisted logic of offsetting the safety improvements of a managed motorway environment against the hazards of removing the hard shoulder’.
She said: ‘The issue with that logic is that those factors are not exclusionary. It is perfectly possible to maintain a hard shoulder on a smart motorway, but it costs more.’
Arguing that there is ‘no evidence that ALR can ever be delivered safely’ Ms Champion called on ministers to stop the roll-out with immediate effect.
She said: ‘Until the obvious and intrinsic risks of removing the hard shoulder are addressed, existing schemes should revert to traditional motorways from today. At a minimum, Highways England must prioritise retrofitting stationary vehicle detection to existing ALR schemes, with a clear deadline for when that work will be completed.’
Ms Champion called for emergency refuge areas to be at 500 to 800-metre intervals and for urgent action – both enforcement and education – to improve compliance with red X signs on gantries.
Former Conservative minister Tracey Crouch also warned Mr Freeman about the use of safety statistics to justify ALR schemes.
She said: ‘When he looks at statistics from Highways England, he needs to disaggregate the types of accident. An accident on a motorway caused by someone driving at 90 mph, or a collision between a moving lorry and a car, is completely different from someone who has come to a halt on a smart motorway being hit by a moving vehicle – quite often a heavy goods vehicle.
'The statistics given are apples and pears; the minister must drill down into them because they are not safe otherwise.'