Inquiry launched into safety of smart motorways after two drivers killed on M1 near Sheffield

An investigation into the safety of smart motorways has been launched by MPs.

Friday, 26th February 2021, 7:36 am

The inquiry by the Commons’ Transport Select Committee will also analyse the impact of the roads on reducing congestion.

Smart motorways often involve converting the hard shoulder to a live running lane to boost capacity without widening the carriageway.

They have been in the spotlight in recent weeks due to growing safety concerns, with Sheffield Coroner David Urpeth claiming smart motorways ‘present an ongoing risk of future deaths’ after holding a recent inquest into a death crash on the M1 near Meadowhall.

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L-R: Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu died in a collision on the M1 smart motorway near Meadowhall

Jason Mercer, 44, from Rotherham and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, from Mansfield, were killed when a lorry driven by 40-year-old Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into their vehicles after they stopped to exchange details following a minor collision where there is no hard shoulder.

Szuba, from Hull, was jailed for 10 months last October for causing death by careless driving but Mr Mercer’s wife, Claire, who is campaigning for smart motorways to be scrapped and hard shoulders reintroduced, said the wrong person was prosecuted because smart motorways should never have been given the go-ahead.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs earlier this month that he ‘inherited’ smart motorways, and pledged to get ‘get rid of confusions’.

These include ‘insane’ dynamic hard shoulders, which switch between being used for emergencies and live traffic depending on demand.

He published a smart motorways action plan with 18 measures to boost safety.

Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the committee carrying out the inquiry, said: “The Department for Transport says smart motorways help us cope with a 23 per cent rise in traffic since 2000, helping congestion.

“The department’s own stocktake report points to lower fatal casualty rates for smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder than on motorways with a hard shoulder. The serious casualty rate is slightly higher.

“This message isn’t reaching the public, whose confidence in smart motorways has been dented by increasing fatalities on these roads.

“Road safety charities are also expressing concerns. Will enhanced safety measures help? Will the public accept them following an awareness campaign? Or should there be a rethink of Government policy?

“There are genuine worries about this element of the motorway network and we want to investigate how we got to this point.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “Dozens of people have lost their lives on smart motorways, so this investigation is welcome.”

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “There is an increasing level of concern around the safety of smart motorways from the driving public through to Westminster.

“While a major review has identified a number of key actions to improve safety and some progress has been made, there is still a great deal of work to do which will take several years to complete.”

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “Since taking office, the current Secretary of State has expressed his concerns over smart motorways and has committed £500 million to safety improvements.

“We welcome this important inquiry from the Transport Committee and we will provide written evidence to help it in its work.”

Recently published figures show there were 14 smart motorway deaths in 2019, 11 deaths in 2018 and five in 2017.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.