Over 130 miles of new ‘death trap’ smart motorways get the green light


Nine more smart motorways without hard shoulders have been granted permission to go ahead despite warnings that they are ‘death traps’.

The new stretches of motorway, which cover a total distance of 138 miles, will see a 32-mile section on the M3, 17 miles on the M6, 23 miles of the M1 and another ten-mile segment on the M3.     

The lanes will also have the more dangerous spacing of around 1.04 and 1.39 miles between emergency safety refuges.

The move comes just months after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced an 18-point safety plan to keep the roads running across the UK despite figures in showing a total of 44 had died on smart motorways in the last five years.  

Nine smart motorways, which cover a total distance of 138 miles, have been granted permission to go ahead 

This year Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced an 18-point safety plan to keep the roads running

This year Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced an 18-point safety plan to keep the roads running

Despite the new measures, the new lanes come as a disappointment to Meera Naran, 36, from Leicestershire, whose son Dev Naran, eight, was killed on a smart motorway after his grandfather’s Toyota Yaris was struck by a HGV on May 31 2018. 

Ms Naran told The Sunday Times: ‘I just find this absolutely unacceptable.’

Dev’s grandfather had been driving along the road with him in the back and his cousin Ria Soni in the front passenger seat when he stopped on the occasional hard shoulder with his hazard lights on.

A police investigation established the car was stationary for just 45 seconds before lorry driver Paul Kiddy, 62, from Hampshire, hit the Toyota at about 56mph.   

This year Saima Aktar, who lost her mother Nargis Bashir, 62, as she drove home to Sheffield along the M1, said Mr Shapps needed to ban the hard shoulders that had been converted into live lanes.

Ms Aktar said by speaking out she hoped Mr Shapps would be prompted to ban the new scheme and ‘speak the truth’ about smart motorways. 

Calling for the minister to ‘end the madness’ of the new lanes, she told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘Mr Shapps must understand how devastating it is to lose someone because a simple thing like a hard shoulder has been removed and a motorway absurdly rebranded as ”smart”. 

She added: ‘He needs to answer a simple question- does he have the nerve to speak the truth about smart motorways?’

Ms Bashir had been a passenger inside a stationary car which had broken down on the M1 with its hazard lights on for 17 minutes when another vehicle crashed into her in September 2018.

Highways England did not notice the broken-down vehicle on CCTV and the lane was left open to traffic. 

Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died when a lorry ploughed into their stationary vehicles near Sheffield after they were involved in a ‘minor shunt’ on June 7 last year. 

Eight-year-old Dev Naran (left with mother Meera Naran), from Leicestershire, was killed on the M6 when his grandfather's Toyota Yaris was struck by an HGV

Eight-year-old Dev Naran (left with mother Meera Naran), from Leicestershire, was killed on the M6 when his grandfather’s Toyota Yaris was struck by an HGV

Jason Mercer

Alexandru Murgeanu

Jason Mercer (left), 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu (right), 22, died when a lorry ploughed into their stationary vehicles on the M1 near Sheffield on June 7 last year

Mr Mercer's wife Claire (pictured together) has mounted a prominent campaign against smart motorways, arguing that he would not have died if there had been a hard shoulder

Mr Mercer’s wife Claire (pictured together) has mounted a prominent campaign against smart motorways, arguing that he would not have died if there had been a hard shoulder

Mr Mercer’s wife Claire Merce lodged formal allegations of corporate manslaughter against Highways England with South Yorkshire Police. 

She told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘They have got blood on their hands.’

Mrs Mercer, who is seeking a judicial review, has since raised more than £5,000 in a crowdfunding campaign to see the new scheme scrapped and has enlisted the help of lawyers at Irwin Mitchell LLP to continue her fight to see the new roads stopped. 

The smart motorway network covers around 500 miles in England, with an additional 300 miles planned by 2025. 

Highways England initially set up smart motorways, which allows drivers to use the hard shoulder at least some of the time, to cut congestion and improve the flow of traffic.

However in January, John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, said the roads were dangerous, putting both drivers and police at risk.  

Mr Apter, who represents rank-and-file officers, insisted: ‘They are a death trap. The country, police and we have been completely misled about the technology.

‘A poorer system has been introduced and continues to be rolled out despite the clear dangers that they present. Smart motorways are inherently dangerous.’

Tory former roads minister Sir Mike Penning authorised the expansion of the programme in 2010 after a successful test on the M42 near Birmingham. 

In the pilot there were safe stopping points for motorists, called emergency safety refuges, on average every 600 metres. But when the scheme was rolled out some refuges were 2.5 miles apart. 

There are currently more than 20 sections of 'smart motorways' on seven different motorways

There are currently more than 20 sections of ‘smart motorways’ on seven different motorways 

Mr Apter, who was a traffic officer, said: ‘We were told that the technology would be so advanced that if there was an obstruction the system would automatically pick it up, help would be dispatched and the gantry would flash up a warning closing the affected lane.

‘We were presented with a fait accompli based on the M42 model but we have been completely misled and a poorer system has been introduced.

‘What we now learn is it takes an average of 17 minutes for an obstruction to be spotted and another 17 minutes for help to arrive.

‘The public don’t even call 999 when they break down as they assume they are being watched by some magic eye in the sky. The Government should order an immediate suspension of any smart motorway conversion until this review is completed.’        

What are the three types of ‘smart’ motorways and how do they work?

All lane running schemes permanently remove the hard shoulder and convert it into a running lane.

On these types of motorway, lane one (formerly the hard shoulder) is only closed to traffic in the event of an incident.

In this case a lane closure will be signalled by a red X on the gantry above, meaning you must exit the lane as soon as possible. 

All running lane motorways also have overhead gantry signs that display the mandatory speed limit. 

Should drivers break down or be involved in an accident there are emergency refuge areas at the side of the carriageway for them to use.  


Controlled motorways have three or more lanes with variable speed limits, but retains a hard shoulder. The hard shoulder should only be used in a genuine emergency.

These variable speed limits are displayed on overhead gantry signs – if no speed limit is displayed the national speed limit is in place. Speed cameras are used to enforce these.  

‘Dynamic’ hard shoulder running involves open the hard shoulder as a running lane to traffic at busy periods to ease congestion.

On these stretches a solid white line differentiates the hard shoulder from the normal carriageway. Overhead signs on gantries indicate whether or not the hard shoulder is open to traffic.

The hard shoulder must not be used if the signs over it are blank or display a red X, except in the case of an emergency.

A red X on the gantry above means you must exit the lane as soon as possible. 

Overhead gantries on these types of motorway also display the mandatory speed limit which varies depending on the traffic conditions. Speed cameras are used to enforce these – no speed limit displayed indicates the national speed limit is in place. 

 Source: RAC

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