‘There is nothing smart or safe about them’ - Decision to halt smart motorway rollout welcomed by Sheffield drivers

Sheffield drivers have welcomed the Government’s decision to halt the rollout of the much-criticised smart motorway scheme.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 4:41 pm

Ministers announced this week that they will immediately cease building any more all-lane running motorways (ALRs) “until a full five years’ worth of safety data is available”.

Smart motorways, like the stretch of the M1 in South Yorkshire, convert hard shoulders into extra lanes and feature emergency refuge areas and electronic signs which can be activated in the case of a crash or breakdown.

Claire Mercer, from Rotherham, whose husband Jason died on a stretch of ‘smart motorway’ near Sheffield in 2019 says the Government announcement to put the rollout of the roads on hold is a gradual move in the right direction.

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Claire Mercer, pictured in front of a picture of husband Jason, wants hard shoulders restored immediately on 'smart motorways', which she blames for Jason's death.

But she says it is a missed opportunity to do the even easier thing – and close the inside lanes now.

She said: "All they have to do is throw the switch to switch off the first lane and we’ve got the hard shoulder back, even if they just do that while they investigate, yet again.”

Existing ALRs will see a total of £390 million spent retrofitting more emergency refuges and installing technology to detect stranded vehicles.

Drivers in Sheffield have welcomed the latest news, with some calling for smart motorways to be scrapped completely.

M1 smart motorway near Sheffield

Lisa Butterworth said: “Too many people are losing their lives. There is nothing smart or safe about them at all. Need scrapping, bring back the hard shoulder that worked perfectly fine.”

James Brentnall said: “Not safe at all. They need changing back, so we have a hard shoulder again. Hard shoulders are dangerous enough as is. Without them, people are going to be killed.”

Chris Wright, aged 59, said: “I don’t think they are safe. The statistics clearly show that smart motorways are a danger to people, and I think they need reconsidering.”

Smart motorways were first introduced in England in 2014 as a cheaper way of increasing capacity compared with widening carriageways.

Since then, concerns about their safety have been raised after dozens of fatal incidents where motorists have collided into the back of broken down vehicles.

Earlier this week, a video emerged showing drivers taking evasive action on the M1 near Sheffield to avoid a stranded van close to Meadowhall. Overheard boards that should have warned a vehicle was broken down were still telling road users to drive at 60mph and gave no indication of the danger.

In November, a protest saw 38 coffins carried across London to represent lives lost on smart motorways since they were introduced.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, the biggest union representing National Highways staff, said: “The decision by the government to delay the rollout of 'all lanes running' smart motorways for information gathering is welcome and goes some way towards addressing the safety issues Prospect and others have been raising for some time.

“Increased use of software to detect stopped vehicles, and more frequent safe refuge areas are both things we have been calling for and will make motorway operation safer.

He added: "What's missing though is any recognition of the role played by traffic officers and staff in operations centres in making smart motorways safe. These are the people who identify and then coordinate the response to incidents and who are first responders on the scene.

"There are currently staff shortages in some parts of the country for both traffic officers and operations centre staff, made worse by the recent pay freeze.

"Pay rates need to be looked at again to make sure pay is in line with other emergency service workers, or we will continue to struggle to recruit and retain sufficient staff.”

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