SMART motorways have been labelled “inherently unsafe and dangerous” by the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, Canon Alan Billings.
This week, he called for their abolition in an open letter to the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps. He was responding to a coroner’s verdict last week that two men had been unlawfully killed on a “smart” section of the M1, where the hard shoulder had been turned into an extra traffic lane. The men died in 2019 when a lorry crashed into their vehicles as they exchanged details after a minor collision near Sheffield.
In his letter, Canon Billings wrote: “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.”
He continued: “In a normal year I would drive along this part of the motorway many times. It increases anxiety and tension knowing that, should you break down, you may slow down considerably or come to a halt in a live lane with heavy goods vehicles coming up at speed behind. This is not my idea of ‘safe’. People need to be safe but also to feel safe when driving.”
In response this week, the Department for Transport said that a stocktake of smart motorways last year had found that “in most ways smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, the conventional ones”.
Canon Billings said on Tuesday, however, that “Whatever formula they are using to come to that conclusion is wrong. This is new evidence they have to take into account. I think they were done originally not because it was a safer way of doing a motorway: it was done to expand the capacity, get the traffic flowing by having an extra lane, but to do it cheaply, and I think we’re trading cost — cheapness — for other people’s lives.”