Smart motorway death crash statistics will be analysed by roads regulator

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Smart motorway death crash statistics will be analysed by roads regulator as Grant Shapps continues to insist they are safe

The Transport Secretary has ordered an independent review of safety data Fourteen people were killed in 2019 on motorways without a hard shoulder A coroner said smart motorways 'present an ongoing risk of future deaths'

By Jack Newman For Mailonline

Published: 15:32 EDT, 25 March 2021 | Updated: 03:49 EDT, 26 March 2021

Smart motorway crash statistics are to be analysed by the roads regulator amid safety fears after a number of deaths on the controversial roads.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has commissioned the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to carry out an independent review of safety data despite insisting the roads are safe.

He has also ordered his officials to continue their work with Highways England - the Government-owned company responsible for England's motorways and major A roads - on 'developing possible future options' for reducing accidents on smart motorways.

Smart motorway crash statistics are to be analysed by the roads regulator amid safety fears

Jason Mercer, pictured with his wife Claire, died on a stretch of the M1 with no hard shoulder in June 2019

The design of all lane running (ALR) smart motorways, which involve the hard shoulder being converted into a running lane, has led to safety concerns following fatal incidents involving stationary vehicles being hit from behind.

Fourteen people were killed in 2019 on motorways where the hard shoulder was either permanently removed or being temporarily used as a live running lane, according to Sunday Times analysis.

In a written statement to Parliament, Mr Shapps said: 'While the evidence has suggested that ALR motorways are in most ways as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones, I am determined to go further and ensure that they are the safest roads in Britain.'

Nargis Begum, 62, was killed on the M1 in 2018 when the Nissan Qashqai her husband was driving broke down on the inside lane in South Yorkshire

Alexandru Murgeanu died in the same crash as Jason Mercer when a lorry driver smashed into them on the M1

Zahid Ahmed, 19, was killed when the people carrier he was in stopped before an emergency refuse area on the smart motorway and was hit by a lorry at 56mph

Steve Gooding, director of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said: 'We strongly support the decision to bring in the ORR.

'Public confidence in the safety of smart motorways appears to be stuck at a low ebb and the best way to offer reassurance to sceptical drivers is by publishing comprehensive safety data that has been independently scrutinised by the regulator.'

A spokesman for the ORR said 'robust and trusted data and analysis is essential'.

Mr Shapps published a smart motorway action plan in March 2020 with 18 measures to boost safety.

He ordered Highways England to produce a report one year on, outlining its progress and identifying actions that can be delivered ahead of schedule.

This document will be published 'by summer, once I am assured that the proposals are sufficiently robust', Mr Shapps said.

A coroner in Sheffield claimed in January that smart motorways 'present an ongoing risk of future deaths' after two people were killed when a lorry driver ploughed into their vehicles while they were stationary on the M1 in South Yorkshire.

The Commons' Transport Select Committee launched an inquiry into smart motorways last month, with chairman and Tory MP Huw Merriman warning there are 'genuine worries' about the roads.

Smart motorways have claimed at least 38 lives over five years: Here's what you need to know

What is a smart motorway?

Smart motorways involve a range of methods to manage traffic flow, most controversially using the hard shoulder as a live running lane. 

Refuges where drivers can stop are placed every mile or so. Variable speed limits are also used.

How many are there?

Motorways with sections where the hard shoulder has been removed include the M1, M4, M5, M6, M25 and M62. The smart network stretches to around 500 miles in England, with an additional 300 miles planned by 2025.

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

What are the benefits?

Smart motorways are designed to increase capacity without the more disruptive and costly process of widening carriageways.

But are they safe?

Concerns have been raised about incidents where stopped vehicles are hit from behind. Highways England has insisted smart motorways are 'at least as safe as, or safer than, the conventional motorways they replaced'. 

But a survey of drivers by the RAC found 70 per cent felt removing the hard shoulder on motorways compromised safety.

How many have died?

BBC Panorama in January last year found that at least 38 people had died on stretches of smart motorways over the previous five years.

What do officials say?

An 'evidence stocktake' published by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last March stated that the risk of a collision between moving vehicles is lower on smart motorways than conventional motorways. 

But the chance of a crash involving a moving vehicle and a stationary vehicle was found to be higher when the hard shoulder was removed. 

An 18-point action plan included more refuges for emergencies and faster rollout of a radar-based system to spot stranded vehicles.

Are smart motorways used in other European countries?

The vast majority of motorway-style roads in Europe have a permanent emergency lane.

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