A campaigner who lost her husband in a smart motorway horror crash has called for the return of hard shoulders before more lives are lost, warning today: ‘A coach of schoolchildren will be next.’

MPs have urged officials to pause the construction of ‘all-lane’ smart motorways and accused them of pressing ahead despite ‘major concerns’ about the use of the hard shoulder as a live traffic lane, which critics claim has contributed to dozens of deaths in recent years. 

In a damning report, the Commons Transport Select Committee warned technology designed to save lives is still not in use despite a promise given in 2016 to MPs. It also raises serious questions about stopped vehicle detection systems and calls on the Office of Rail and Road to review them.

Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain this morning, widow Clare Mercer – whose husband Jason died in June 2019 aged 46 on a stretch of the M1 with no hard shoulder – urged for the return of hard shoulders before a ‘coach full of schoolchildren on a daytrip’ breaks down. 

Mrs Mercer, who is campaigning against smart motorways and protested in Westminster yesterday, told hosts Richard Madeley and Susanna Reid: ‘We need to stop them now. We need to take the first lane off the road and put the hard shoulder back. Yesterday, that was the placard I carried. When a coach is full of schoolchildren, will you be able to listen? It is a constant nightmare of mine because it will happen. 

“They are trying to transform the entire country’s networks into these things.”

She continued, “This is the reason we’re having to bring disability discrimination cases. People with disabilities are not allowed to sit still. Discriminating against disabled people is illegal. They opened a section in Berkshire’s M4 two weeks ago with no technology whatsoever.

“We have to campaign because all they do is talk. This year, there were ten reviews about smart motorways. We had to take coffins to Westminster yesterday. 

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Huw Merriman, Tory chairman of the Transport Select Committee, added: ‘Our recommendation is to pause it, and give ORR powers to determine performance. We advocate for a measured approach over time.   

Deadly safety flaws mean the construction of smart motorways must be halted, MPs say today. In a damning report, they accuse transport chiefs and civil servants of pressing ahead with the roads despite 'major concerns' (pictured: deadly crash on smart motorway near Sheffield in 2019)

MPs today stated that smart motorway construction must be stopped because of serious safety issues. They accuse civil servants and transport chiefs of pushing ahead with roads despite “major concerns”. (pictured: fatal crash on smart motorway near Sheffield, 2019)

Clare Mercer

Conservative MP Huw Merriman

Clare Mercer, left, and Conservative MP Huw Merriman, right, are urging a pause to the construction of smart motorways

Fifty-three people died on smart motorways in four years to 2019, with at least 18 of the deaths attributed to the smart motorway safety system

In the four years from 2009 to 2019, smart motorways were responsible for the deaths of 53 people. At least 18 of these deaths can be attributed to the smart safety system.

Protesters for coffins in Parliament’s shadow 

Yesterday, families of motorway victims carrying coffins walked through Westminster to demand that the hard shoulder be immediately reinstated.

Around 50 protesters marched to Department for Transport to demand that the Government end the controversial roads. 

The 53 people who were killed on smart motorways between 2014-2019 were represented by the cardboard coffins.

After breaking down on all-lane running motorways, some loved ones of the protesters died.

Jack Gallowtree was severely injured in a single accident and travelled from Wolverhampton for yesterday’s Smart Motorways Kill protest.

The 33-year-old ex model said, ‘I want smart motorways to be abolished.’ The Government must be held responsible for creating these dangerous roads.

In April, Mr Gallowtree was driving along the M6 near junction 18, when his motorbike suddenly lost power. He was unable reach safety without a hard shoulder. 

He needed emergency surgery and was admitted to hospital for five weeks with major wounds and a broken knee cap.

“There are 15,000 miles of motorway. It’s all new and raw. We must allow evidence to flow. It would be wrong to react in a knee-jerk manner. National Highways should be retrofitted. 

In their report, the MPs wrote: ‘Lives would almost certainly have been saved had the technology been in place sooner. Safety improvements promised by the MPs were not implemented efficiently or effectively.

Stopped vehicle detection (SVD) technology is supposed to detect vehicles when they break down, alerting CCTV controllers and traffic officers so they can reach cars marooned in live traffic. 

According to the report, MPs on the committee raised concerns about ‘all-lane racing’ (ALR) motorways five years ago. This is where the hard shoulder is permanently removed.

According to the report, safety measures included in an action plan that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ordered last year didn’t fully address the risks associated the removal of the hard shoulders.

This is partly because he demanded that National Highways (the agency responsible for the motorways) ensure that emergency laybys are closer together in future schemes. 

Laybys can be used by drivers who are involved in an accident or have to stop for help. However, the committee recommends a retrofit program to existing schemes to ensure they are a minimum of one mile apart and 0.75 miles respectively ‘where physically feasible’.

The report concludes that “In conclusion, it is not clear that the benefits of all-lane motorways are sufficient for us to justify the safety risks associated permanently removing the hard shoulder.”

It doesn’t call for the hard shoulder be restored. However, it warns that the reduction in road capacity could cause more vehicles to use ‘less secure’ local roads, leading to more deaths and pollution.

Instead, the committee suggests that ALR rollout should be halted pending more data to prove that they are as safe or better than National Highways claims. 

Five years of safety data for only 29 miles of ALR routes are available. Therefore, assessments for decision making are ‘limited’ or ‘volatile’.

The committee says the analysis should be extended to the remaining 112 miles of ALR installed prior to last year – and in the meantime the rollout should be halted.

Up to 250 miles of ALR are expected to be in place by 2025.

The Government made the decision last year that this format should be the default smart road in England, but it was too late, according to the report.

It also notes that smart motorways with a permanent hard shoulder are less likely to have higher casualty rates.

The report states that ‘controlled’ smart motorways with technology installed are the safest Mroads. They retain the hard shoulder, but are safer than others. Ministers should review the case.

Safety measures in an action plan ordered by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured outside Downing Street) last year did ‘not fully address the risks associated with the removal of the hard shoulder’, the report says

According to the report, safety measures in an Action Plan ordered by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last year (pictured outside Downing Street), “not fully address risks associated with the removal or the hard shoulder”.

Technology designed to save lives is still not in use despite a promise given in 2016 to the Commons transport committee, which wrote today’s report (pictured: Heavy traffic on the M1 'smart motorway' in Bedfordshire)

Technology designed to save lives is still not in use despite a promise given in 2016 to the Commons transport committee, which wrote today’s report (pictured: Heavy traffic on the M1 ‘smart motorway’ in Bedfordshire)

One of the most harmful passages in this report is “Successive admins, together with Department [for Transport]Highways England, National Highways predecessor, underestimated how important safety measures were needed to mitigate the risks associated permanent removal of the hard shoulders.

Despite having previously promised that such improvements would be prioritized, the Department and Highways England failed deliver safety improvements to all lane-running motorways in a timely fashion. It was also disappointing that this fundamental change in the design and construction of our motorways was not communicated.

The MPs laud the Daily Mail’s undercover investigation into safety of smart motorways. For six weeks, a reporter who worked at South Mimms regional Control Centre in Hertfordshire discovered that more than one in ten safety camera lenses were damaged, misty or facing the wrong route.

In the four years up to 2019, 53 people died on the roads, with at least 18 deaths being attributed to the system.

Greg Smith, Tory MP and member of the transport committee, stated that the evidence in the report, as well as excellent investigations by newspapers such the Daily Mail, show just how far we still have to go to ensure safety for the great British motorist.

Karl McCartney, a Tory MP, suggested that a full-blown public inquiry might prove necessary. 

Demonstrators protesting against smart motorways march with coffins across Westminster Bridge to Parliament Square in London, Monday, November 1

Protesters marching against smart motorways with coffins from Westminster Bridge to Parliament Square in London on Monday, November 1

Families of smart motorway victims carried coffins through Westminster yesterday to demand the immediate reinstatement of the hard shoulder, Monday, November 1

Yesterday, families of smart motorway victims carried coffins to Westminster to demand that the hard shoulder be immediately reinstated.

He stated that smart motorways were, and always have, a lazy, bean counting, and dangerously-held view as a means to increase motorway capacity without spending any additional money from vehicle and fuel tax.

The inquiry found that emergency personnel are unable to reach the frontlines for incidents on ALR motorways if all four lanes have been blocked. It recommends the Office of Rail and Road sign off major changes to England’s roads and act as a regulator.

ALR motorways are home to 40% of all breakdowns. This is because motorists can’t reach an emergency stop.

The RAC also found that 60% of drivers want ministers who go beyond the report of the committee to scrap smart motorways and reinstate the hard shoulder.

Jim McMahon (Labour transport spokesperson) stated that the Government must listen to the families of victims and not ignore them. Otherwise, we will face more tragedy on our roads.

A DfT spokesperson stated that: “We are pleased that the transport committee recognizes that reinstating a hard shoulder on all all-lane motorways could place more drivers and passengers at serious risk of death and injury, and that we have to concentrate on improving their safety.”