Following years of campaigning by families whose relatives were killed on so-called 'smart' motorways, by Coroners issuing Preventing Future Deaths warnings to Highways England, and by the head of the AA, the Government has finally said that proposed plans to turn the hard shoulder into a fourth lane on 14 more motorways have been axed.
It seems it has taken the deaths of 70 drivers and passengers stranded on active hard shoulders, plus those catastrophically injured, for policymakers to admit that the public simply does not understand the concept of a smart motorway, and that the promised digital overhead gantries to keep people safe do not do their job.
President of the AA Edmond King, with whom we have consulted for many years on behalf of our clients, went so far as to accuse the Government of ignoring safety concerns over the 'scandal' of smart motorways for more than a decade as he joined campaigners demanding ministers go even further and reinstate all hard shoulders previously turned into live lanes on the 400 miles of existing smart motorways.
Mr King told the press this weekend that during his campaign involving speaking to 13 transport secretaries and ministers of state, he was told he was 'too emotional'.
"I remember saying to Chris Grayling, what would you do if you broke down on a smart motorway in a live lane? He said, 'Oh, I'd get out of my car'. I said, 'but you'd be killed'. It was like he hadn't even thought it through," Mr King said.
It's difficult not to get emotional when you're faced with the reality of fatalities and injuries caused by these motorways, originally introduced to ease congestion. We acted for the family of Dev Naran, the eight-year-old boy who was killed after his grandfather stopped their car on the hard shoulder of the M6 near Birmingham in 2018. The hard shoulder had been turned into an 'active lane' earlier in the day and a lorry collided with their stationary car.
The West Midlands coroner issued a Section 28 Preventing Future Deaths report at the inquest and Dev's mother, Meera, dedicated years of her life while grieving for her son raising awareness of the clear and obvious danger of live lanes. Highways England seemed reluctant to admit that someone like Dev's grandfather would just not understand the concept that there was no emergency hard shoulder on which he could stop and tragedy was the result.
Meanwhile, my team and I act for some of the students very seriously injured in a crash on the M1 in 2019, and for the family of the young man killed in the collision.Supporters of smart motorways have long argued there is no evidence that smart motorways cause more deaths than normal motorways and that abandoning them will increase congestion. The AA challenges the data behind this statement, and if we're going to argue about smart motorways in these clinical terms, I would add to the mix the astronomical economic costs of rebuilding the shattered lives of my clients left injured following the M1 collision – their futures ruined, their plans destroyed, and the long road of intense rehabilitation ahead of them and their families. That is the true cost of a smart motorway.
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