New concerns have been raised over the safety of ‘smart motorway’ schemes after it emerged that deaths on such roads reached their highest ever level in 2019.
The Sunday Times reported that there were 14 fatalities during the last year for which data is available on motorways where hard shoulders have been permanently removed or operate temporarily as live lanes.
It said that data had been collected by the Department for Transport but not published in its annual report on road casualties.
There were 11 deaths on smart motorways in 2018 and five in 2017, the paper said. Significantly, it pointed out that the number of fatalities is rising faster than the network is expanding. The number of deaths per mile of smart motorway has risen from one every 43 miles in 2016 to one every 17 miles in 2019, it said.
The total number of fatalities on motorways in Great Britain fell to 105 in 2019 from 2015 the previous year.
AA president Edmund King said: ‘Tragically these devastating new figures reflect our worst fears. More and more people are dying on smart motorways.
‘The clamour for change has been getting louder, as officials sat on these figures, with coroners and police commissioners now joining our campaign alongside former transport ministers pushing for change.’
The DfT said: ‘Since taking office, the transport secretary has committed £500m to smart motorways safety improvements and has recently pressed Highways England to further accelerate work. The safety and peace of mind of drivers and passengers using these routes remains our priority.’
Earlier this month Grant Shapps told MPs it was ‘entirely wrong’ to roll out all lane running ‘smart motorways’ without stopped vehicle detection and said he had asked Highways England to speed up the retrofitting of the technology across the smart motorway network.
Highways England told the Sunday Times: ‘At the transport secretary’s request, we are currently preparing a progress report against his evidence stocktake and action plan which will include analysis of latest safety data.’