Earlier this year we published a blog covering the increasing concerns and news coverage surrounding the safety of smart motorways. Since this blog, there has been a ramp up in the movement to stop the further development and opening of more lengths of smart motorways following the start of investigations into the same.

Over the Summer, various accounts of tragedies on these smart motorways were presented to the High Court in a bid to have the network abolished. The campaign group, Smart Motorways Kill, have been a large driving force behind the movement and were applying for a judicial review to illegalise motorways that do not have hard shoulders on the grounds that they are inherently dangerous. Their bid highlighted that there had been 53 deaths over a six year period and lawyers were arguing that it is likely almost all of them could have been avoided if the hard shoulder had still been in place.

The lead campaigner behind Smart Motorways Kill, Claire Mercer whose husband died on a stretch of Smart Motorway on the M1 in 2019, has highlighted that “every time these motorways are reviewed in any independent legal realm, the experts come to the same conclusion; they’re death traps”.

Meanwhile at an inquiry into the safety of smart motorways held in May of this year, the President of AA was among the people giving evidence and he highlighted that despite the technology meant to detect any hazard in the lanes on a smart motorway, “a Highways England report said from when you break down, it takes 17 minutes on average until you’re spotted”. Understandably, this statistic has caused shock amongst the public as the deaths highlighted in our previous blogs show that a fatal accident can happen in seconds.

As the investigations have continued throughout this year, more recently The Independent has highlighted how an undercover investigation found that “one in ten of the safety cameras on the roads were found to be faulty, obscured with mist or facing the wrong way” which would of course potentially leave stranded vehicles and their occupants in lanes that are remaining open to high-speed traffic if the cameras have not detected them. This has led to calls for the hard shoulder to be permanently reinstated whilst the reviews are ongoing and until the safety of such roads are improved.

Various groups and campaigners are calling for a range of improvements to be made to the smart motorways including improving the camera system, re-introducing a permanent hard shoulder, introducing more emergency refuge areas or even rather than improving them, just abolishing this system of roads completely. MPs have also now realised the dangers that the system of smart motorways pose to the public, warning the Government that the rollout of the new smart motorways needs to be stopped until the concerns on safety have been correctly addressed. They also accused the Government of failing to deliver on the promises they made earlier this year to improve road safety on the smart motorways.

This controversial road safety issue is one that will continue to dominate for many more months to come with campaigners from Smart Motorways Kill protesting outside of the Houses of Parliament as recently as 1 November of this year. If the investigations and reviews go the way of the campaigners then it could have monumental consequences for the Government, specifically the Department for Transport and Highways England. One thing is clear – the safety concerns over the smart motorways system are genuine and real and need to be addressed before the public loses even more confidence in the handling of the situation.

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