'Woeful' response to dangers of smart motorways, says Rotherham MP

THE Government’s response to the dangers of smart motorways was “woefully inept”, said MP Sarah Champion after she called for an immediate end to the roll-out of the scheme.

But the politician said it was a “good thing” that transport minister George Freeman admitted the scheme was flawed during Wednesday’s parliamentary debate.

Ms Champion has been campaigning alongside widow Claire Mercer whose husband Jason (44), of Broom, was killed on a stretch of the M1 All-Lane Running (ALR) smart motorway in June.

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Leading the debate, Ms Champion said: “The safety features that were promised when the motorway was converted have still not been installed. 

“Jason is one of a growing number of victims of so-called ‘smart motorways’, in which the flow of traffic is controlled by remotely adjustable speed limits. 

“Specifically, Jason was killed on an All-Lane-Running motorway (ALR), in which the hard shoulder has been permanently removed,” she said

The same 16-mile section of the M1 has seen five fatalities in 10 months.  

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She added: “I acknowledge that ALR schemes can deliver capacity improvements. But they are doing it at a cost of motorists lives.”

In 2016, a Highways England Report found that it took an average of 17 minutes to detect a stranded vehicle and a further three minutes to close a lane once a stationary vehicle had been detected.

Ms Champion added: “In Jason Mercer's case, it took over six minutes to detect his stationary vehicle. The lane in which he was stranded, was only closed after the crash which claimed his life. 

“Stationary vehicle detection (SVD) technology reduces the time taken to spot stranded vehicles by an average of 16 minutes. Highways England committed to fitting SVD throughout the smart motorway network in 2016. 

“This has not happened.”

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On Tuesday, the AA said it would no longer carry out roadside assistance on All-Lane Running motorways due to the serious safety concerns, prompting Ms Champion to ask: “How bad does it have to get before the minister acts?”

Mr Freeman called the AA’s announcement “concerning”, adding: “We need the support of all vehicle resuce operators.”

He said the Government had never expected emergency workers to stop in a live lane. Ms Champion called this an “extroidinary justififcation” which showed the government had known emergency workers would not be able to access vehicles in trouble.

Speaking after the hearing, Ms Champion said the minister kicked her calls to stop the roll-out “into the long grass”.

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In October, the Government committed to reviewing All-Lanes Running Smart Motorways. Mr Freeman told the debate the results of the review were imminent — but Ms Champion said in the meantime “people are dying and many more are being put at risk”

Mrs Mercer is crowdfunding for a judicial review into the controversial scheme. Read more about her campaign at smartmotorwayskill.co.uk.

Highways England claim there have been fewer collisions and congestion since the introduction of ALR.

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