Smart motorways 'murder drivers': Damning Mail investigation reveals

Smart motorways ‘murder drivers’: Damning Mail investigation reveals they’ve been blamed for at least 18 deaths since 2015… and true toll could be THREE TIMES as high

  • Bereaved families are demanding controversial motorway rollout be reversed 
  • A grieving widow claimed the ‘cost-saving’ scheme was ‘murdering’ motorists 
  • Mail’s findings show the human cost of the roads but ministers say they are safe 

The deadly toll of smart motorways is revealed for the first time today in a Daily Mail audit that shows the roads have been blamed for at least 18 deaths since 2015.

Bereaved families are demanding the controversial rollout be reversed and say their loved ones would still be alive had the Government not ignored safety warnings.

One grieving widow claimed the ‘cost-saving’ scheme was ‘murdering’ motorists, while Labour has demanded ministers ‘stop more lives being lost’.

Dev Naran with his mum Meera Naran. The eight year olf died when a lorry hit his grandfather’s car on the hard shoulder

The deadly toll of smart motorways is revealed for the first time today in a Daily Mail audit

Undated Family Handout photo of Mohammed Bashir and his wife Nargis Begum who died on a smart motorway on the M1 in South Yorkshire

The Mail’s findings lay bare the human cost of the roads, which use the hard shoulder as a live lane to improve traffic flow. Ministers insist they are safer than conventional motorways, but there are fears the removal of a crucial refuge for stricken drivers is putting lives at risk.

Official data shows there were 53 deaths on smart motorways between 2015 and 2019, however the figures do not explain the cause of accidents.

The Mail’s audit, which includes coroners’ reports, Freedom of Information requests and local newspaper cuttings, reveals 18 fatalities since 2015 have been at least partly blamed on the smart motorway itself.

The remaining fatalities are attributed to human error or accidents, but campaigners believe smart motorways could be to blame for the majority of deaths because the lack of a hard shoulder can make it more difficult for ambulances to reach the scene of an accident.

In one case in which two motorists were killed, an air ambulance crew was forced to land on an adjacent field before making their way to the crash site.

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, praised the Mail for ‘shining a light’ on cases where ‘the design of “smart” motorways raises questions over whether the collision could have been avoided if the hard shoulder remained’. Previously the motoring association had put the death toll at 14.

Sally Jacobs lost her husband Derek, 83, in 2019 when a burst tyre forced him to pull over on the M1 near Sheffield and his car was hit by another vehicle. 

She told the Mail smart motorways were ‘murdering’ drivers, adding: ‘They know these roads are killing people.’ 

Pictured is Peter Lee who was killed on a smart motorway. Campaigners are seeking a judicial review at the High Court that if successful would force the Government to reinstate hundreds of miles of hard shoulder

Nathan Reeves who was killed in M1 motorway. Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, praised the Mail for ‘shining a light’ on cases

Derek Jacobs was killed in a smart motorway crash. The Mail’s audit, which includes coroners’ reports, Freedom of Information requests and local newspaper cuttings

Tom Aldridge was killed on a smart motorway in South Bedfordshire. Labour transport spokesman Jim McMahon called on ministers to reinstate the hard shoulder

Some victims have been hit by oncoming traffic while waiting beside their broken-down vehicles, while others have died trying to avoid stranded motorists. 

Four coroners have raised questions over safety following fatal collisions. 

One referred a case to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider corporate manslaughter charges against Highways England, the Government agency in charge of UK roads. 

It remains pending. Campaigners are seeking a judicial review at the High Court that if successful would force the Government to reinstate hundreds of miles of hard shoulder that it has spent 15 years and billions of pounds transforming.

There are plans for about 800 miles of smart motorway by 2025, up from just under 500 miles currently. But the number of deaths recorded on such roads has surged year-on-year, with 15 recorded in 2019, compared with 11 in 2018 and five in 2017.

There is also anger that emergency laybys on smart motorways are being spaced out by as much as 1.5 miles, despite half a mile being the distance in trials.

The AA is demanding that laybys be spaced every three quarters of a mile to give motorists a better chance of reaching safety. It also wants all schemes to be fitted with radar systems to detect broken-down vehicles. It currently takes Highways England’s control centre an average of 17 minutes to spot a stopped car.

Labour transport spokesman Jim McMahon called on ministers to reinstate the hard shoulder.

He added: ‘It is astonishing that ministers are tinkering around the edges but refuse to take action to stop more lives being lost.’

A Government spokesman said: ‘Data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the country, with fatalities less likely than on conventional motorways.

‘We continue to improve safety, including opening all new smart motorways with technology to spot stopped or broken down vehicles, and speeding up rollout on existing stretches of road.’

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