No new smart motorways without safety measures - as Wigan m-way work continues

Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed a target of retrofitting technology by September this year

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 9:25 am

No new smart motorways will open unless they have radar technology to spot broken down vehicles, the government has confirmed.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps made the announcement and said plans to retrofit the Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) System will be accelerated by Highways England.

Mr Shapps’ action plan includes a deadline of rolling out SVD across the entire network by March 2023, but now says this work will be done by September this year.

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General view of the M6, near junction 24, Ashton, as work begins on the controversial smart motorway

It comes as work started last month to transform a 10-mile stretch of the M6, which links the M62 near Warrington (junction 21a) to the M58 near Wigan (junction 26), into a smart motorway.

The all-lane running motorway will have no hard shoulder although there will be 10 new emergency areas with roadside telephones.

As part of the upgrade, new radar detectors positioned along the motorway will monitor the flow of traffic and automatically detect any stationary vehicles.

Campaigners have raised major concerns about the safety of the motorway due to their lack of or no hard shoulders.

Labour MP for Makerfield Yvonne Fovargue

Borough MPs Lisa Nandy and Yvonne Fovargue have both expressed fears about the scheme, as have residents living near it in Bryn, who have described the motorways as “death traps” and “dangerous”.

If breakdowns are spotted lanes are closed, but there have been a number of incidents where lorries have ploughed into stationary vehicles.

According to analysis by the Sunday Times there had been 14 deaths around the country.

And in January a coroner in Sheffield claimed smart motorways “present an ongoing risk of future deaths” after two people were killed when a lorry driver ploughed into their vehicles while they were stationary on the M1 in South Yorkshire.

But in a written ministerial statement, Mr Shapps stated that fatal casualties are less likely on all-lane running motorways than on conventional ones.

He said: “Great Britain has some of the safest roads in the world and, although per hundred million miles driven there are fewer deaths on smart motorways than conventional ones, we are determined to do all we can to help drivers feel safer and be safer on our roads – all our roads.

“The data contained in the Highways England progress report continues to show that fatal casualties are less likely on all-lane running motorways than on conventional ones.

“But we know drivers can feel less safe on roads without hard shoulders, which is why the progress report intends to accelerate a number of actions to provide reassurance to drivers.”

Road safety charity IAM RoadSmart welcomed the new measures, stating that a recent poll of its members shows that more than 80 per cent feel less safe on a smart motorway.

Tony Greenidge, IAM RoadSmart CEO, said: “Our survey results have given us a strong platform with which to work in partnership with Highways England and Department of Transport to help increase confidence among motorway users.

“We believe that high quality and frequent education is needed to deliver ongoing reassurance to drivers and riders.

“A new education course and swift penalties for those drivers who put others at risk is also being proposed, to be effective this must be backed up by more traffic police to ensure the new powers are used.

“The plans to automatically enforce Red X violations from 2022 are much needed.”

Mr Shapps, last month, also commissioned the Office of Rail and Road to carry out an independent review of safety data for the controversial roads.

He also ordered his officials to continue their work with Highways England – the Government-owned company responsible for England’s motorways and major A roads.

This was on “developing possible future options” for reducing accidents on smart motorways.