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Smart motorways – why so long for recognition?

At the end of 2018, I spoke with Tracey Crouch MP about the dangers posed by smart motorways. She was involved in an all-party parliamentary group responsible for looking at the safety of the roads, especially surrounding the roadside recovery and rescue services. 

Since then, the group, which works together with the Campaign for Safer Roadside Recovery and Rescue (CSRRR) has made recommendations including allowing vehicles attending breakdowns to use red flashing lights rather than the current amber. Yet these amendments were not widely reported. Why has it taken over a year for the media to cotton on to the fact that smart motorways are dangerous?

Firstly, I take umbrage with the comments in the newspapers and online that smart motorways are those ‘where the hard shoulder is a live lane’. No, a smart motorway is where there is NO hard shoulder. None. If you break down, you do so in a live lane. That is then closed, if you’re lucky enough for a camera operator to see you. 

Back when these things were launched, Highways England used the excuse that modern cars were more reliable. At the time I was travelling the M25 between J5 and J6 every day, and I cannot tell you how many times I encountered delays due to broken down vehicles in the works to convert that stretch. With the average age of the UK car parc around eight years, it’s unlikely that reliability lasts forever. Then there is the driver, the question of whether they keep up the maintenance of the vehicle, not to mention wearable items like tyres, brakes and so forth…

The reports that there have been 38 deaths on smart motorways has now created a frenzy, and today the news is that current projects will be halted. This is a step forward, but this action could, and should, have been taken years ago, before a single death occurred. And now the mass media is surrounding it, the government has been forced into action. The reality is that smart motorways have always been death traps, and if more media outlets had cottoned onto that fact sooner, the pressure then may have seen an earlier change. This current outcry is great, but comes too late. 

All we can hope now is that Highways England decide to install a very long refuge area, maybe the length of the smart motorway it runs alongside, perhaps on the outside shoulder, made of a hard surface… 

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