05:45PM, Wednesday 29 January 2020
Smart motorways have been introduced with a ‘shocking degree of carelessness’ according to a parliamentary group which has demanded their roll-out be halted.
A report from MPs published on Tuesday has slammed the controversial road system that is being implemented on part of the M4.
The report was released a day after the BBC’s Panorama programme showed that, over the last five years, 38 people have died on smart motorways.
An FOI request by the BBC also showed that an ‘all lane running’ section of the M25 – the same format of smart motorway that the M4 is being upgraded to – saw 1,485 ‘near misses’ over the last five years.
In the five years before the road was converted, only 72 near misses occurred.
The Department for Transport defines a near miss as ‘an event not causing harm, but has the potential to cause injury or ill-health’.
On an all lane running motorway, the hard shoulder is permanently removed and lane one is only closed to traffic in the event of an accident.
Drivers who break down are expected to pull over in emergency lay-bys, which are up to 1.6 miles apart.
Work is being carried out to transform the M4 into an all lane running smart motorway between junction 3 at Hayes and junction 12 at Theale.
The section between Maidenhead and Theale is set to open in 2021.
The report, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Roadside Rescue and Recovery, said: “The APPG finds the implementation of all lane running, which has been presented by Highways England and the Department for Transport as the natural extension of earlier ‘smart motorways’ but is in fact a fundamental alteration to the nature of a road, has been conducted with a shocking degree of carelessness.”
It added: “The necessary steps have not been taken in advance to ensure the safety of motorists and recovery operators.”
The report also found that 38 per cent of breakdowns took place in live lanes on all lane running motorways, compared to 20.43 per cent on regular motorways.
The report demanded the roll-out of all lanes running motorways be ‘halted’ until the live lane breakdown rate is reduced to the same level as regular motorways, and that more emergency lay-bys be installed so they are no more than 800 metres apart.
Speaking on Panorama on Monday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said of smart motorways: “We absolutely have to have these as safe or safer than regular motorways or we shouldn’t have them at all.”
Responding to the report, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes was critical of smart motorways.
He said: “This report shines a light on the huge concerns that exist about the safety of all lane running smart motorways in the event of a breakdown.
“With more than two-thirds of drivers telling the RAC that the permanent removal of the hard shoulder compromises safety in the event of a breakdown, it is now abundantly clear things need to change.
“Increasing capacity on our major roads is important, however it is vital that everything is done to reduce the risk to drivers who break down on smart motorways.
“Any death on our roads is one too many, and our deepest sympathies remain with the family and friends of those who lost their lives.”
A Highways England spokesman said: “The Transport Secretary has asked the Department for Transport to carry out, at pace, an evidence stock-take to gather the facts about smart motorway safety.
“We are committed to safety and are supporting the department in its work on this.”
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