Action plan to tackle 'lethal' smart motorways announced by Grant Shapps

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced an action plan to boost the safety of smart motorways.
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Speaking in the Commons this morning Mr Shapps said he will publish the findings of an investigation into smart motorway safety today.

And he said: "Alongside that report, I'm also launching an 18-point action plan to raise the bar on smart motorway safety.

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"Overall, the evidence shows in most ways smart motorways are as safe or safer than conventional ones, but they are not in every way, and I have therefore developed these new measures in order to further improve safety."

A stretch of 'smart' motorway near Sheffield. Photo: JPI MediaA stretch of 'smart' motorway near Sheffield. Photo: JPI Media
A stretch of 'smart' motorway near Sheffield. Photo: JPI Media

Yorkshire man Jason Mercer, 44, from Rotherham, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, from Mansfield, both died last June when they were hit by a lorry after pulling over following a collision on the northbound M1 between Junction 34 for Meadowhall and 35 for Thorpe Hesley.

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The stretch of road in question is currently classed as an ‘all lanes running’ (ALR) motorway, meaning there is no hard shoulder in operation. Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu had pulled over as far as they could to exchange details.

However, after they left their vehicles a lorry collided with the pair. They were pronounced dead at the scene.

Claire and Jason Mercer. Photo: SubmitClaire and Jason Mercer. Photo: Submit
Claire and Jason Mercer. Photo: Submit
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Mr Mercer’s widow Claire now wants a stop to the hard shoulder being turned into a normal lane on the country’s motorways and has instructed Irwin Mitchell Solicitors to investigate bringing a legal case against Highways England calling for the use of smart motorways to be halted.

Mr and Mrs Mercer’s MP Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, has campaigned extensively to deliver safety improvements on Britain’s smart motorways since Mr Mercer’s death.

She said: “While I am hugely relieved that the Secretary of State has listened to the serious concerns raised by people directly impacted by smart motorways, these proposals do not go far enough to address the fundamental safety issues.

“By recognising the need to improve the safety measures of current schemes, the Government has tacitly acknowledged the fundamental flaws in existing ALR motorways.

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"The first duty of Government is to protect its citizens – yet the Secretary of State is allowing these lethal roads to continue to operate.

“The Government must restore existing ALR motorways to traditional operation with immediate effect. They should not operate again until life saving safety measures can be retrofitted.

“The Government is gambling with the lives of motorists. I will continue to fight until ALR operates safely – or not at all.”

The Government's plan will focus on getting help to broken down drivers much quicker and making the schemes less confusing - with the review admitting the risk of a crash between a moving and stationary vehicle is higher on smart motorways.

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The package of measures includes abolishing confusing “dynamic hard shoulder” motorways and substantially speeding up the deployment of “stopped vehicle detection” – a radar-based system which spots stationary vehicles – so that it is installed across the entire smart motorway network within 36 months.

This will enable broken down drivers to typically be detected within 20 seconds, with lanes closed more quickly.

Mr Shapps added: “I’ve been greatly concerned by a number of deaths on smart motorways, and moved by the accounts of families who’ve lost loved ones in these tragic incidents.

“I commissioned an urgent stocktake of smart motorways to provide a clearer picture of their safety and make recommendations on next steps. I envisaged it to be swift, but during the course of our investigations a complex picture emerged – which warranted further work.

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“That work has now concluded and overall, evidence shows that in most ways smart motorways are as safe as or safer than conventional ones.

“But I am clear that there is more we can do to raise the bar on smart motorway safety. The extended package of measures I have set out will help rebuild public confidence in our motorway network and ensure that safety is firmly at the heart of the programme.”

The changes will also ensure that the distance between places to stop in an emergency is reduced to three quarters of a mile where feasible, so that on future schemes motorists should typically reach one every 45 seconds at 60mph. The maximum spacing will be one mile.