Damning figures that prove smart motorways cost MORE lives

Damning figures that prove smart motorways cost MORE lives: Data shows death rates on controversial roads are a third higher than on those with a hard shoulder… as victims’ families call for system to be scrapped

  • Figures show live lane fatality was more than a third higher on ALR motorways 
  • National Highways chief Nick Harris told MPs smart motorways are ‘safest roads’
  • John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, calls them ‘inherently dangerous’ 
  • A recent RAC poll found six in ten motorists want smart motorways scrapped 

By Susie Coen and David Churchill For The Daily Mail

Published: 23:35, 27 September 2021 | Updated: 23:40, 27 September 2021

Official figures show that death rates on smart motorways are up to a third higher than on those with a hard shoulder.

The disclosure blows a hole in repeated claims by ministers and highways bosses that smart motorways are ‘as safe as, or safer than’ their conventional counterparts.

Department for Transport statistics show that for the last two years for which figures are available, ‘live lane fatality rates’ were higher on ‘all lane running’ (ALR) roads.

These motorways have their hard shoulders permanently scrapped and converted into an extra lane, meaning motorists can become marooned in fast-moving traffic.

In 2018, the live lane fatality rate was more than a third higher on the ALR motorways – 0.19 per hundred million vehicle miles compared with 0.14, while in 2019 the rate was eight per cent higher than on conventional motorways – 0.14 versus 0.13.

It comes despite National Highways chief Nick Harris telling MPs this summer that smart motorways are ‘the safest roads in the country’. The figures submitted to MPs this year show death rates were lower on ALR roads in 2015, 2016 and 2017 – meaning they became more lethal from 2018. Figures for last year have yet to be compiled.

National Highways, a government-owned company, claims figures for the whole five-year period, from 2015 to 2019, should be looked at rather than recent years.

But a report earlier this month by the Office of Rail and Road watchdog found the figures were ‘limited’ because data was available for only 29 miles of the ALR roads – their total extent in 2015, compared with up to 180 miles today. This has led to suspicions that data has been presented in a way which is favourable to National Highways’ pro-smart motorways stance.

The watchdog also found bosses at the company, formerly Highways England, may have ‘obscured’ the impact of removing the hard shoulder with the way they presented data. It said they used a ‘complex’ method to compile some data and a simpler way would be ‘more transparent’.

It is unclear why the fatality rates on ALR roads overtook that of conventional motorways, but experts pointed to more traffic on the roads.

Campaigners say deaths on smart motorways are a direct consequence of the road system itself – because stationary vehicles are stuck in lanes of moving traffic, rather than the simple bad luck of a crash involving moving vehicles.

Damning figures that prove smart motorways cost MORE lives

The M1 smart motorway in Bedfordshire was shut in both directions following a serious road crash

A recent RAC poll found six in ten motorists want smart motorways scrapped.

Sally Jacobs, 83, whose husband Derek was killed on the M1 in 2019, said: ‘Every time [Transport Secretary] Grant Shapps says smart motorways are safer than normal motorways, I want to throw something at the television.’

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, said the roads were ‘inherently dangerous’. He added: ‘The fact these roads do not have a hard shoulder makes them potentially deadly. They are almost impossible for the police and other emergency services to operate on safely.’

The Department for Transport said: ‘It remains that smart motorways are among the safest in the UK, with the data showing that fatalities are less likely than on conventional ones, and we will continue working to build public confidence in them.’

Bring back the hard shoulder now, plead distraught families

By Susie Coen, Assistant Investigations Editor of The Daily Mail 

Families of those killed on smart motorways last night called for the immediate reinstatement of the hard shoulder throughout the network after the Mail’s damning revelations.

Niaz Shazad, 33, the son of Nargis Begum, 62, who was killed on the M1 near Sheffield three years ago, said he feels ‘anger and downright hatred’ when he sees smart motorways hailed ‘as safe or safer than conventional roads’.

Mr Shazad said: ‘We’re going to make sure we get the hard shoulder back by whatever means necessary.’

He said the Mail’s investigation – highlighting a catalogue of lethal flaws in the cameras, radar system, signals and provision of emergency refuge areas – would help push ‘tangible change’ to stop ‘any other families going through what we went through when my mum passed away’.

Damning figures that prove smart motorways cost MORE lives

Niaz Shazad, 33, the son of Nargis Begum, 62, (pictured left with her husband Mohammed Bashir) who was killed on the M1 near Sheffield three years ago, said he feels ‘anger and downright hatred’ when he sees smart motorways hailed ‘as safe or safer than conventional roads’

Mr Shazad was joined in his call by Lynn Reeves, 62, mother of Nathan, 23, one of three who died when a lorry ploughed into a car on the M1 in Bedfordshire in February 2015.

Fifty-three have died on smart motorways, with 18 of those partly attributed to how the controversial road system operates.

Mrs Reeves said: ‘If the hard shoulder had never been used as a live lane, then they would have been quite as safe as any other broken down vehicle should be.

‘There needs to be a safe space for motorists – once you’re on that motorway, you just have to pray that your car is OK or someone’s not going to make a mistake.’ Sally Jacobs, 83, whose husband, Derek, 83, died on the M1 near Sheffield, said the Mail’s revelations made it crystal clear that hard shoulders had to be reinstated immediately.

Mrs Jacobs, who was married for 66 years, said: ‘No dithering. Just put it back and stop the lies.

‘They know they’re killing the citizens. They know what’s happening day in, day out.’

The impact on the bereaved is quickly apparent from talking to them: the memories are raw, and the pain still overwhelming.

Damning figures that prove smart motorways cost MORE lives

The scene of a double fatal rta on the M1 near Sheffield that killed Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu who died when a lorry being driven by Prezemyslaw Zbigniew Szuba hit them on an area of smart motorway

Mr Shazad said his mother and father Mohammed Bashir were travelling home from visiting relatives who had been on the Hajj pilgrimage when disaster struck in September 2018.

It was about 9pm when their Nissan Qashqai lost power on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield, which had been converted to a smart motorway with no hard shoulder.

The couple got out of the car and Mohammed, 68, stepped over the safety barrier to call their daughter Saima Aktar.

Suddenly, he heard a huge crash, and assumed two other cars had been in a collision.

But it was pitch black – and he had no idea where his wife was.

Mr Shazad said a doctor pulled over to ask what had happened.

He said: ‘My dad explained that she had been there a moment ago and with the help of this doctor, who I think got her camera phone out, they started looking further and further up the motorway – and that’s where they found her.’ A lorry had hit their car, which in turn hit Nargis, 62, who was then dragged down the motorway.

South Yorkshire coroner Nicola Mundy referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider corporate manslaughter charges against National Highways. It remains pending.

Mr Shazad said: ‘No family should have to go through what we had to endure. My dad isn’t even a quarter of the man he used to be.

‘We looked up to him even at this age, and to see him just fall off a cliff to an extent, from where he used to be to where he is, it’s difficult for us all.’

Mrs Reeves described her own pain at losing her son Nathan.

Every Valentine’s Day, she wakes up at 6am and packs her car with hundreds of daffodils.

She makes sure she is at Tickford Street Cemetery by 6:45am – the exact time and date Nathan was killed. It was six years ago when Nathan and his friend Tom Aldridge, 20, died on their way home to Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, after a night out.

Damning figures that prove smart motorways cost MORE lives

Mr Shazad was joined in his call by Lynn Reeves, 62, mother of Nathan, 23, (pictured) one of three who died when a lorry ploughed into a car on the M1 in Bedfordshire in February 2015

Damning figures that prove smart motorways cost MORE lives

It was six years ago when Nathan and his friend Tom Aldridge, 20, (pictured) died on their way home to Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, after a night out

Driver Allan Evans, 59, who was giving them a lift, was also killed when a double-decker coach crashed into their car. They had pulled over on to the hard shoulder of the M1 near Flitwick.

The driver of the coach, Alan Peters, then 78, was given a seven-year jail sentence after failing to see signs that the lane was closed.

Mrs Reeves said: ‘We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

It makes me angry.

‘It could have been avoided. Sometimes I look over the motorway when I cross over it while I’m walking my dog. It’s probably a bit sick really, but I envisage how fast that coach must have been going to hit the back of their car.

‘They didn’t stand a chance.

If you’ve broken down through no fault of your own, and you’ve got nowhere safe to pull over, what do you do?’

Mrs Jacobs said she ‘doesn’t want to be here any more’ now her husband is dead.

Mr Jacobs was killed on a section of the M1 where there is no hard shoulder, after there was a problem with his car.

He was climbing over a barrier when a truck hit the car, which crushed him.

Mrs Jacobs said: ‘I keep speaking out because, although it won’t bring my Derek back, I want to stop any other families enduring this.’