Smart Motorway fears as M1 clocks up 1200 incidents
More than 1,200 vehicles were left stranded on ‘smart motorway’ sections of the M1 with no hard shoulder in South and West Yorkshire last year – an average of more than three every day with each incident branded “a potential tragedy” by an MP.
Figures released to Yorkshire Live show as many as 132 vehicles stopped in ‘live’ lanes on stretches of the motorway where the old hard shoulder has been taken up to form an extra lane.
Highways England admit the real total could be higher still, because the statistics they hold refer only to incidents reported to them or police, meaning there could be more.
Smart motorways were introduced in recent years as a cure for congestion, taking up hard shoulders to absorb more vehicles and using electronic signs to vary speed limits and inform drivers of other restrictions.
That system relies on simple lay-by refuges with emergency telephones at 1.5 mile intervals, but experience has shown many stricken vehicles cannot reach them.
Smart motorways have now been linked to dozens of deaths nationally, including Rotherham man Jason Mercer, 44, who died in an incident on the M1 near Sheffield. He had been exchanging details with another motorist when a second collision occurred.
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion has been campaigning against smart motorways since questions around their safety began to emerge.
She said: “Each time a vehicle is stranded in a live lane, there its the potential for tragedy. That so many motorists were left exposed by the removal of the hard shoulder just goes to show the enormous risks resulting from a decision to increase motorway capacity on the cheap.
“Safety must always be the Government’s first priority. All Lane Running motorways are inherently dangerous
“It’s too late for those who have already died, but the Government must recognise its mistake and abandon these lethal roads before any more lives are lost,” she said.
Highways England call incidents with stranded vehicles a “carriageway compromise” and they peaked at 132 incidents in October.
Fewest incidents were recorded in February, at 76, with a general upward trend over the 12 months, giving a total of 1,251 incidents.
Of those, Highways England patrols, which provide safety cover on the motorways, attended 1,076, or around 90 per cent.
They acknowledge in some cases it is possible that “members of the public resolve the issue before traffic officer attendance. These would not be recorded on our systems.”
The AA has added to Sarah Champion’s concerns.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA says; “The fact that over 1,000 drivers failed to reach an Emergency Refuge Area in 2019 on this stretch of the M1 is very worrying.
“As we have said from the outset, the 1.5 mile distance between these laybys is just too big a distance and these figures obtained by The Yorkshire Post further emphasise our concerns.
“Many of these live lane breakdowns could have been avoided if we had double the number of refuge areas, which is what we hope the review into ‘smart’ motorways will recommend,” he said.
A Highways England spokesman defended the record of the M1 smart motorway in Yorkshire and said: “The all lane running section of smart motorway on the M1 in Yorkshire has increased capacity by a third on one of the busiest roads in the country, successfully reducing stop-start congestion.
“Smart motorways include a range of protection measures in place which are not present on other types of high-speed roads. These include sensors to detect the flow and speed of traffic, electronic signs to close lanes, display warning messages and slow down approaching traffic and 100% CCTV coverage.In addition, across our network, in 2018-19 we exceeded our annual targets for keeping lanes open to traffic and the clearance of incidents within an hour.”