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‘Smart’ motorways are ‘inherently unsafe’ and ‘should be abandoned’, Yorkshire police chief says 

Smart motorways are ‘inherently unsafe’ and ‘should be abandoned’, a police and crime commissioner says.

Dr Alan Billings, PCC for South Yorkshire, has written to the Government saying the abolition of the hard shoulder should be ‘abandoned’ before more people die. 

In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Dr Billings accused Highways England of trading ‘driver safety for lower costs’ and using ‘flawed’ logic to justify smart motorways, The Telegraph reports. 

It comes days after a coroner ruled that the deaths of two men on the M1 near Sheffield was in part due to turning the hard shoulder into a live lane.  

The inquests into the ‘unlawful killings’ of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, heard that smart motorways present an ‘ongoing risk of future deaths’. 

Dr Billings wrote in his letter: ‘I think the coroner’s verdict makes it imperative now to abandon this type of motorway before more lives are lost.’

Mr Mercer, 44, was exchanging details with Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, following a collision when they were both hut by a lorry on an area of motorway without a hard shoulder

He says he attended a meeting with Highways England in January last year to ‘discuss road safety’, claiming they ‘sought to persuade me that smart motorways were as safe if not safer than the usual type of motorway’. 

Dr Billings said he believes their conclusion was arrived at through ‘flawed’ arguing, and it was not ‘helpful’ to compare collisions or deaths on the two types of motorway. 

Dr Alan Billings, PCC for South Yorkshire, has written to the Government saying the abolition of the hard shoulder should be 'abandoned' before more people die

Dr Alan Billings, PCC for South Yorkshire, has written to the Government saying the abolition of the hard shoulder should be ‘abandoned’ before more people die

He added: ‘The relevant test for us is whether someone who breaks down on this stretch of the motorway where there is no hard shoulder, would have had a better chance of escaping death or injury had there still been a hard shoulder – and the coroner’s verdict makes it clear that the answer to that question is: ”Yes”.’ 

Highways England has been ‘seduced by false comparisons’ to increase the number of lanes and aid traffic flow at a lower cost than if a hard shoulder had been built, Dr Billings claims. 

He says that while travelling on the M1, ‘anxiety and tension’ are increased due to fears of breaking down in a live lane with heavy goods vehicles approaching from behind at speed.  

According to the Department for Transport report, data for the first nine ‘all-lanes-running’ schemes – where a hard shoulder is turned into a fourth lane – showed deaths on the carriageway rose from an average of zero to 2.8 per year.

Figures for overall collisions in live lanes rose more than six-fold from an average of three per motorway to 19.

Meanwhile, serious crashes rocketed more than 23 times from 0.3 per year to seven, and slight collisions almost quadrupled, from 2.3 to 9.1. 

The figures are believed to relate to sections including those on the M1, M6 and M25.

In the 2019 Stocktake and Action Plan report, which used Highways England data, the DfT claimed the ‘risk of a collision involving a vehicle stopped in a live lane remains relatively small’ and overall accident figures for the roads reduced because of the elimination of hard-shoulder collisions.

Widow Claire Mercer has blasted smart motorway schemes following the death of her husband, Jason Mercer

Widow Claire Mercer has blasted smart motorway schemes following the death of her husband, Jason Mercer

A coroner recently ruled the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the deaths of Mr Murgeanu and Mr Mercer (pictured with wife Claire)

A coroner recently ruled the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the deaths of Mr Murgeanu and Mr Mercer (pictured with wife Claire)

The report recommended an 18-point action plan to improve safety. 

Last week, Coroner David Urpeth warned smart motorways present ‘an ongoing risk of future deaths’ as he gave verdicts of unlawful killing at an inquest. 

He ruled the lack of a hard shoulder had contributed to the deaths of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22.

The men were struck by a lorry after they had stopped to exchange details following a minor collision on the M1 near Sheffield in June 2019.

The HGV driver, Prezemyslaw Szuba, was jailed for ten months for causing death by careless driving last October.

Mr Mercer’s widow Claire said: ‘Smart motorways are a lot easier to turn off than they were to turn on. Just switch them off and stop killing people.’

Highways England said one in 12 motorway deaths happened on hard shoulders. There have been 44 deaths on smart motorways in total. A spokesman said: ‘We are determined to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible…’

A Department for Transport spokesman said smart motorways are in most ways as safe as or safer than conventional ones.  


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