The police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire has written an open letter to the transport secretary Grant Shapps and Highways England, calling for smart motorways to be abandoned “before more lives are lost”.
The safety of smart motorways hit the news again last week, after an inquest heard the deaths of two men on a converted stretch of the M1 could have been avoided.
Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu died in 2019 when a lorry crashed into their vehicles on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield.
The crash happened after a collision between Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu. When the pair got out to exchange details they were hit by the lorry, and both died at the scene.
Dr Alan Billings, the PCC for South Yorkshire – the area where the incident took place – says even before the findings of the inquest, he had met with Highways England to express his view that “these motorways are anything but smart”.
In the open letter, Dr Billings wrote: “I believe smart motorways of this kind – where what would be a hard shoulder is a live lane with occasional refuges – are inherently unsafe and dangerous and should be abandoned.
“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.”
First introduced in 2006, smart motorways use variable speed limits and hard shoulder running to manage traffic and tackle stop-start congestion.