Police warn of record high death toll on smart motorways ahead of new inquiry

A record high death toll on smart motorways must be taken into account by MPs as part of a new inquiry on the controversial highways, the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has warned.

Figures from a government database of all road traffic accidents reported to police, have shown there were 14 deaths on smart motorways in 2019, and 11 deaths in 2018.

The benefits and safety of smart motorways - which involves opening the hard shoulder as an additional lane to ease traffic congestion and using signage to warn motorists of incidents ahead - are to be investigated by the Transport Committee in a new enquiry in the coming weeks. MPs will also consider their impact on reducing congestion on busy sections of the motorway and other roads in the strategic network.

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PFEW’s National Chair, John Apter, said: “The Police Federation has always strongly opposed so-called ‘smart’ motorways. They are inherently dangerous, not only for police officers, but for the hundreds of thousands of members of the public who use them every day. The reported figures for the number of deaths being linked to them are shocking.

A stretch of 'smart' motorway near Sheffield.

“The lack of a hard shoulder makes these roads potential death traps for motorists and their passengers in the event of an accident, and almost impossible for the police and other emergency services to operate on safely. Added to this, the technology to detect obstructions and issues on the motorway itself just isn’t at the level that was promised.”

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Mr Apter said: “While we value the DfT’s commitment to address these serious issues, its review last year did not go far enough and we are disappointed it has since decided to build more smart motorways before completing the rollout of these new safety measures.

“We welcome the new review launched by the Transport Committee and we are willing to be part of these important discussions. We would urge MPs leave no stone unturned because the death toll does not lie and it must urgently answer the serious concerns that we have raised, not just on behalf of our members, but for the public and other services that use these roads before more lives are lost."

An inquest into the death of Nargis Begum, 62, who died after a car she was travelling in broke down and was hit on a live line, has also been referred onto the Crown Prosecution Service to consider grounds for investigating Highways England for possible corporate manslaughter charges.

A recent online survey revealed more than eight in 10 people want to see the rollout of smart motorways halted until their safety can be proven.

Highways England has said it recognises the “ongoing concerns” about smart motorways and is “determined” to do all it can to make drivers feel safe.

The Yorkshire Post has contacted the DfT for further comment.