Drivers using the M1 in South Yorkshire will be put at risk of ‘serious injury and death’ under a new traffic scheme, the county’s top police officer has warned.
Chief Constable David Crompton, South Yorkshire’s most senior ranking police officer, has written to the Government to voice his concerns about the proposed ‘smart motorway’ scheme.
It would see drivers using the hard shoulder of the M1 between Junction 32 at Thurcroft and Junction 35A at High Green, Sheffield.
Mr Crompton said: “I fear that there will be a greater risk that people will be injured or even die as a result.”
He has also written to the region’s coroners about his concerns for the safety of motorists and passengers, saying he fears for the safety of those who may break down and have nowhere to pull over.
And he is worried about the length of time it will take police, firefighters and paramedics to reach crash scenes because of the lack of a clear hard shoulder, should the proposed scheme ahead.
Mr Crompton said: “I fundamentally object to this scheme – if there is an accident the emergency services will find it difficult to get to the crash scene and if somebody is seriously injured those few minutes could make all the difference.
“I have written to transport minister Robert Goodwill, objecting in the strongest possible terms.
“I have also taken the unusual step of copying the letter to the county’s coroners, because I think it is inevitable that if the scheme goes ahead in as proposed it poses grave danger to motorway users.”
Sheffield MP Meg Munn, who was due to meet Mr Goodwill and the force’s head of roads policing, Stuart Walne, in London today, said: “There has been no clear evidence put forward on why we need hard shoulder running 24 hours a day – we all accept that at peak hours it would help ease congestion and where this has happened elsewhere accident numbers have fallen.
“But outside of these hours traffic is likely to be flowing much faster and visibility could be impaired early in the morning and late at night.”
The Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley said: “For the chief constable to send a letter and make his concerns known, I think it would be extraordinary if the minister did not take note.”
The RAC has called for more emergency refuges to be provided, but said there was no evidence using the hard shoulder as a running lane was more dangerous, after similar schemes on the M42 in the West Midlands and the M62 in West Yorkshire.
David Bizley, RAC technical director, said: “All-lane running is the cheapest option for increasing motorway capacity and risk assessments appear to show it is no more dangerous overall than motorways with a traditional hard shoulder.
“However, the overall risk is a combination of added dangers when a motorist breaks down.
“We are in favour of increasing capacity on our motorways and are not opposed to the use of the hard shoulder as a running lane, but we should be aiming to make our roads safer for people who break down and not the reverse.
“The Government appears willing to compromise the safety of those breaking down in order to save on the cost of building more emergency refuge areas.”
Roads Minister Robert Goodwill said: “Our motorways are among the safest in the world and smart motorways deliver much needed additional capacity, cutting congestion by using the hard shoulder as a traffic lane and smoothing journeys through using variable speed limits.
“Existing smart motorway schemes have not only improved reliability and eased congestion, but have also improved safety - findings from the M42 pilot scheme showed that accidents more than halved with no fatal accidents in five years. Smart motorways are being introduced across the country and I am confident they will boost the local economy and maintain or improve road safety.
“After meeting with Meg Munn and local police we are looking at ways we can further enhance safety, but the Chief Constable should carefully look at the evidence from existing Smart Motorway sections, which are already saving lives.”