South Yorkshire MP slams Highways England report on smart motorways

A South Yorkshire MP said while she welcomes the additional safety measures on smart motorways by Highways England, the move still does not address the fundamental problem.

By Rahmah Ghazali
Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 4:24 pm
Updated Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 4:29 pm

Member of Parliament for Rotherham Sarah Champion said this in response to the First Year Progress Report published by Highways England today (April 21) stating their commitments to retrofit stopped vehicle detection (SVD) technology to all existing smart motorways by September 22 and to ensure that no new smart motorway will open without the technology in place.

In a statement, she said: “The installation of SVD across the smart motorway network is a welcome improvement. I am clear that this commitment has come about only as a result of pressure from MPs, campaigners, and, most importantly, from the families of those who have already lost loved ones.

“This change is welcome, but it doesn’t address the fundamental problem. While it can improve safety, in the end, all Highways England and the Government are doing is mitigating to a small degree a risk they themselves have created.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Sarah Champion MP

“Highways England continue to disingenuously offset the safety improvement that a managed environment delivers against the risk of removing the hard shoulder. But these are not mutually exclusive. A managed environment can be delivered while keeping the hard shoulder.”

The report also finally commits to complete feasibility review into retrofitting additional emergency refuges on existing smart motorways where they are currently spaced more than one mile apart by 2022.

In response to this, Sarah, who has repeatedly called for more refuges to be retrofitted as an immediate priority, heavily criticised the proposal, adding: “The Government has accepted, in deciding that future schemes must place refuges no more than one mile apart, that bigger gaps are unsafe.

"Yet, despite some existing smart motorways having refuges spaced far in excess of this, Highways England will only commit to having completed a review by April 2022, some two years after the initial publication of the Evidence Stocktake.

“This is outrageous. If safety really was the number one priority, then delivering basic safety measures like properly spaced refuges would have been built into the design from the word go. Instead, we must wait two years from the publication of the initial report simply to learn the outcome of a review.

“I am gravely concerned that more lives will be lost whilst we wait. The Government should immediately commit to restore the hard shoulder pending work to install additional refuges. If it’s not be possible to deliver these safely, they should return to traditional operation, with a hard shoulder.”

There has been a growing concern over all lane running smart motorways, which involve the hard shoulder being converted into a running lane, after several fatal accidents involving stationary vehicles being hit from behind.

The calls to scrap the smart motorways intensified after two men, one of them from Rotherham, were killed in 2019 when a lorry crashed into their vehicles after they stopped to exchange details following a minor collision where there is no hard shoulder near Sheffield.

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.