Death rates on smart motorways with the hard shoulder permanently removed are higher than those on conventional motorways, official figures show.
The revelation blows a hole in Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ claims that smart motorways are ‘as safe as, or safer than’ their conventional counterparts.
It also undermines a claim last week by Highways England’s acting chief executive Nick Harris that they ‘are the safest roads in the country’.
Evidence submitted to the Commons transport committee, which is investigating smart motorways, shows that in 2018 ‘live lane fatality rates’ were more than a third higher on ‘All Lane Running’ (ALR) roads.
These smart motorways have their hard shoulders permanently scrapped and converted into an extra lane, meaning motorists can become marooned in traffic rushing past them.
In 2019, the live lane fatality rate on ALR roads was eight per cent higher than on conventional motorways.
Pictured: The scene of a double fatal crash on the M1 near Sheffield that killed Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu
The Department for Transport figures, which include collisions between moving and stationary vehicles, show death rates were lower on ALR roads – the most common form of smart motorway – in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
But they overtook the rates on conventional motorways in 2018 and 2019.
The figures show live lane fatality rates have surged on ALR motorways over the last five years as more miles of them have been rolled out.
Meanwhile, the rate on conventional motorways has fallen.
The rates are measured as fatalities per hundred million vehicle miles travelled by drivers on the roads. On ALR smart motorways the rate was 0.19 in 2018 compared with 0.14 for conventional motorways – 35 per cent higher.
In 2019 the figures were 0.14 and 0.13 respectively. Claire Mercer, whose husband was killed in 2019 after he pulled over on a section of the M1 with no hard shoulder, said: ‘It shows the level of deceit we’re dealing with.
They are purposefully using the five-year figure rather than the two most recent years.’ She added of smart motorways: ‘It is insulting they carry on defending them, but the most serious thing is they carry on killing people.’
Evidence submitted to the Commons transport committee, which is investigating smart motorways, shows that in 2018 ‘live lane fatality rates’ were more than a third higher on ‘All Lane Running’ (ALR) roads
These smart motorways have their hard shoulders permanently scrapped and converted into an extra lane, meaning motorists can become marooned in traffic rushing past them
Sally Jacobs, 83, whose husband Derek was killed on the M1 in 2019 after he pulled over due to a fault with his vehicle, said: ‘Every time Grant Shapps says they’re safer I want to throw something at the telly.
‘I honestly think they’ve been massaging the figures all the way along.’
Labour’s transport spokesman Jim McMahon, who has called for hard shoulders to be reinstated while the safety of smart motorways is investigated, said: ‘Campaigners and grieving families want to see common sense and action from ministers.
‘Yet all we are seeing is more dither and delay and a refusal to give people the whole picture – putting even more lives at risk.’
Tory MP Karl McCartney, who sits on the transport committee, added: ‘I think that all works to spread smart motorways across the motorway network should be halted immediately and their safety investigated.’
Jason Mercer, 44, was killed just 15 minutes after saying goodbye to his wife Claire, 43, when a HGV ploughed into him
Alexandru Mergeanu, 22, was also killed in the northbound M1 accident. He was exchanging insurance information with Mr Mercer when they were hit
He added: ‘I think the senior management of Highways England should spend a few hours in a broken-down small car stuck on the inside lane of a smart motorway.
‘ If their nerve can handle that they should spend the rest of the night assisting recovery drivers changing an offside wheel on the hard shoulder at 4am in the morning as juggernauts go thundering past.’
A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘The data shows fatalities are less likely on smart motorways than on conventional ones.
‘This conclusion has been made by looking at the average trends over a number of years, which is essential to mitigating volatility in the casualty data.’
Meanwhile, Britain’s largest fire service has warned smart motorways are causing delays in responding to accidents.
London Fire Brigade told the Commons transport committee there is often no empty hard shoulder for officers to use to get to a crash.
Two victims who died as lorries smashed into cars
The eight-year-old schoolboy is one of the youngest victims to be killed on a smart motorway.
Dev, from Leicestershire, died instantly in 2018 when his family’s stationary Toyota car was hit at 56mph by a lorry on a hard shoulder opened to traffic on the M6 near Birmingham. It came 45 seconds after the car stopped.
Dev’s grandfather had been driving, but it is not known why he pulled over. The boy’s family called for a rethink of smart roads.
Dev Naran, 8, is one of the youngest victims to be killed on a smart motorway
The contracts manager, 44, was killed along with delivery driver Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, on the M1 smart motorway near Sheffield in 2019.
A coroner ruled the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to their deaths.
Mr Mercer, of Rotherham, pictured with wife Claire, was in a minor collision with the van of Mr Murgeanu, of Mansfield.
Both drivers had stopped on the hard shoulder – which was open to moving traffic – when a lorry smashed into the van.
Jason Mercer (above with his partner Claire) was killed along with delivery driver Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, on the M1 smart motorway near Sheffield in 2019