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Transport Minister Grant Shapps unveils smart motorway safety measures


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A series of measures designed to improve safety on smart motorways have been unveiled by the government.

The proposals follow mounting concerns after figures revealed there had been more than 30 deaths on motorways where the hard shoulder was used as an additional lane.

Transport minister Grant Shapps
Transport minister Grant Shapps

Reacting to the news, Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch, a vocal critic of scheme, said the measures lack clarity, particularly regarding the M20.

Transport minister Grant Shapps has unveiled an 18-point package of measures to improve safety and public confidence.

Plans will see “dynamic hard shoulder” motorways abolished to end confusion while “stopped vehicle detection” will be rolled out “at pace”.

In addition, sections of motorways where there are such schemes will see emergency stops closer together.

In January, the government said a smart motorway scheme on a 6.5mile stretch of the M20 between Junction 3 for the M26/Borough Green and Junction 5 for Aylesford would not open until a review of safety was completed.

Tracey Crouch, Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford Picture: Andy Payton
Tracey Crouch, Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford Picture: Andy Payton

Analysis commissioned by the Transport Secretary found that overall, in most ways smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones.

Data shows that the risks that are lower on smart motorways compared with conventional motorways include tailgating, rapid changes of vehicle speeds, vehicles drifting off the carriageway and vehicles being driven too fast.

However, some risks are higher than on conventional motorways, for example the risk of a collision between a moving and stationary vehicle.

Mr Shapps said: “I’ve been greatly concerned by a number of deaths on smart motorways, and moved by the accounts of families who’ve lost loved ones in these tragic incidents.”

“I commissioned an urgent stocktake of smart motorways to provide a clearer picture of their safety and make recommendations on next steps.

A 6.5mile stretch of smart motorway is planned on the M20 Picture: Andy Jones
A 6.5mile stretch of smart motorway is planned on the M20 Picture: Andy Jones

"I envisaged it to be swift, but during the course of our investigations a complex picture emerged – which warranted further work.

“That work has now concluded and overall, evidence shows that in most ways smart motorways are as safe as or safer than conventional ones.”

“But I am clear that there is more we can do to raise the bar on smart motorway safety. The extended package of measures I have set out will help rebuild public confidence in our motorway network and ensure that safety is firmly at the heart of the programme.”

Mr Shapp's action plan also sets out the government’s commitment to installing ten additional emergency areas on the existing M25 smart motorway.

The government will also consider a national programme to install more places to stop where they are more than a mile apart. Highways England will also investigate what more can be done on sections of the M6 and M1 where there have been clusters of incidents.

'The extended package of measures I have set out will help rebuild public confidence in our motorway network and ensure that safety is firmly at the heart of the programme'

Concerns about accidents and safety were raised after figures showed there had been 38 deaths on smart motorways in five years.

In 2017 Steven Godbold was hit and killed by a lorry on the M25 near Sevenoaks in 2017.

The 52-year-old recovery worker was struck as he stood on the hard shoulder on a call out and his partner, Sam Cockerill has voiced her fears that more people could be hurt.

Ms Crouch said she was glad the government had listened to people's call for action but she would be writing to Mr Shapps, asking for greater clarity on the M20.

Ms Crouch said: "One particular concern that came off the back of the overall campaign related to the tragic death of a recovery worker from my constituency and the need for the recovery industry to be allowed to use red lights. This was championed by Steve's partner Sam and I am absolutely thrilled to say that the action plan notes that work will commence immediately to review the use of red lights."

"The action plan answers my calls for stopped vehicle detection systems to be installed and it says that this will be accelerated. I am not sure what this means. The plan also says that the distancing between emergency refuges will be shortened - at the moment there is a very large distance between ours on the M20 (1900m) but the plan is to limit the distance to one mile or less. Again it is not clear what this means for the M20."

She also welcomed further driver education about smart motorways and reviewing the length of the emergency refuges.

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