Safety fears raised about M27 in Hampshire as fresh figures show 38 people have died on smart motorways in five years

POLITICIANS have accused highways chiefs of a ‘shocking degree of carelessness’ over the roll out of Britain’s smart motorway network, as fresh figures reveal 38 people have died on the new roads in the past five years.

Monday, 27th January 2020, 12:26 pm
Updated Monday, 27th January 2020, 1:23 pm

The new motorways were introduced to improve traffic flow on clogged highways, allowing hard shoulders to be used as an extra lane in the busiest areas.

But motorists who break down can be left stranded in speeding traffic with nowhere to safely pull in and call for help.

Now, statistics obtained by a freedom of information request, have revealed a total of 38 people have been killed on smart motorways since they were introduced in April 2014.

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Portsmouth South Stephen Morgan. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The news comes as a major effort continues to convert Hampshire’s M27 into Britain’s next smart motorway – at a cost of £244m.

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MPs on the all-party parliamentary group for roadside rescue and recovery are braced to release a report, which will call for the entire system to be overhauled.

The document is understood to accuse Highways England and the Department for Transport of a ‘shocking degree of carelessness’ over the way ‘all lane running’ motorways were introduced.

Plans to create a smart motorway have caused a lot of controversy.

Figures obtained by the BBC’s Panorama programme revealed that on one stretch of the M25, the number of near-misses had increased 20-fold since it was converted to a smart motorway.

Flick Drummond, Meon Valley MP, said she was ‘concerned’ by the news and vowed to write to transport secretary Grant Shapps.

She said: ‘Smart motorways increase capacity but it is far from certain they are as safe as traditional motorways.’

Labour’s shadow communities minister, Stephen Morgan, was also worried.

The Portsmouth South MP, who called for increased scrutiny of smart motorways in 2017, said: ‘Increased traffic flow should not come at the expense of road safety. The safety of our road users must come above all else.

‘Recent figures combined with warnings issued by campaigners indicate that implementing smart motorways with no hard shoulder could put road users at risk.

‘Considering Portsmouth is due to see the nearby M27 converted into one, this is deeply concerning.’

Fareham Borough Council leader, Sean Woodward, said the situation was ‘far from being black or white’.

The county councillor claimed more study was needed before he could jump to any ‘headline conclusions’.

In particular, Councillor Woodward said it was ‘critical’ to understand the ‘frequency’ of refuges on smart motorways and whether the highways affected by fatalities had permanent or temporary hard shoulders.

‘Every fatality is an appalling tragedy but everyone has a different cause,’ he added.

Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, was keen to know whether it ‘made sense’ to have ‘patches’ of smart and conventional motorway on the M27.

She added: ‘It is right that we focus on why these fatalities happened and learn the lessons.

‘Road traffic accidents over the years have been reduced and that has only been through continuous safety improvement.’

While Havant MP Alan Mak, insisted smart motorways had to be ‘made safe for motorists’ and demanded any recommendations from the government’s review must be ‘factored in’ to the M27 upgrades.

Work to complete the smart motorway on the M27 is due to be completed next year.

A £134m programme to upgrade the stretch of M3 between Winchester and Southampton is expected to be finished by 2022.