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The Prime Minister last night demanded a ‘thorough’ inquiry into smart motorways after the Mail’s damning undercover investigation revealed they were plagued with shocking failures.
Boris Johnson said No10 took the revelations ‘very seriously’, and instructed National Highways to investigate.
Asked if the PM will halt the proposed rollout of another 300 miles of the controversial roads, his spokesman said ‘any necessary steps’ will be taken.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was ‘deeply concerned’, and had demanded an update on the issue from National Highways ‘within days’.
It ramps up the pressure on National Highways after our devastating exposé revealed critical problems in the tech relied on to keep motorists safe.
Boris Johnson said No10 took the revelations ‘very seriously’, and instructed National Highways to investigate
Asked if the PM will halt the proposed rollout of another 300 miles of the controversial roads, his spokesman said ‘any necessary steps’ will be taken
Today, the Mail exposes critical flaws in the £150 million radar software system which is meant to alert the control room to broken-down cars within 20 seconds – and is often failing to do so. Former ministers who gave the green light to the killer roads and MPs described the revelations as ‘disturbing’, and told the Government to ‘get a grip’ on the issue.
John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, writing in the Mail, says: ‘Urgent change is needed if more loss of life is to be avoided.’
More than 50 motorists have died on smart motorways from 2015 to 2019, with 18 deaths attributed to the road system.
Families of victims hailed the Mail’s coverage. Naiz Shazad, 33, whose mother Nargis Begum, 62, was killed on the M1 near Sheffield three years ago, said: ‘We’re going to make sure we get the hard shoulder back by whatever means necessary’.
Control room staff say the radar system, which makes a groaning sound when triggered, is low priority because it goes off continuously – but often misses actual breakdowns.
Internal reports reveal staff have flagged systems failures to bosses several times over the past few months.
An undercover reporter working at the National Highways South Mimms control centre witnessed the radar system failing to detect a car sitting in high-speed traffic for more than 30 minutes.
It was stranded on a section of the M25 where at least three deaths have been blamed on the smart motorway.
A picture of the National Highways East Regional Operations Centre based in South Mimms. Screens at the front of the control room are used to monitor the network and big incidents. Two of the CCTV cameras being streamed to the whole control room are faulty
One operator, referring to Stopped Vehicle Detection, the radar system, told the reporter: ‘It is really bad – it just doesn’t quite work as it should.’
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said No 10 ‘recognises the concerns raised by the Mail today’. ‘We take these claims very seriously, and will of course ensure National Highways conducts a thorough investigation.
‘It remains that smart motorways are among the safest in the UK with data showing that fatalities are less likely than on conventional ones, and we will continue to work towards building public confidence in them.’
Mr Shapps said: ‘I am deeply concerned by these allegations and have instructed National Highways to conduct a detailed investigation. I expect to receive an initial update on this within days.
‘Should the investigation show that the high standards we expect on smart motorways are not being met, I am clear that this will not be tolerated and will be ordering that improvements to processes are completed rapidly.’
Former roads minister Sir Mike Penning, who in 2010 authorised a £2 billion expansion of smart motorways, said: ‘I was shocked to read the Mail investigation but not surprised. Now we have the evidence, they [National Highways] have to act. They have got to get a grip.’
Former roads minister Sir John Hayes added: ‘It’s disturbing what the Mail has revealed and given what we know now, it’s time for a review.’
Labour MP Sarah Champion, whose Rotherham constituency is close to the stretch of the M1 where there have been a spate of deaths, called for smart motorway lanes to be urgently converted into hard shoulders. National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said: ‘We are determined to do all we can to help drivers feel safe and be safer on all our roads and we are investigating these allegations as a matter of urgency.’
Exposed: Lethal flaws in smart m-way radar system that put YOU in danger
By Susie Coen, Assistant Investigations Editor at The Daily Mail
A radar system that should alert the smart motorway control room to breakdowns within 20 seconds gives a host of false warnings – while missing stranded cars.
Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) has been lauded by highways chiefs and ministers as ‘ground-breaking’.
But control room staff say the system – to be expanded along the entire smart motorway network at a cost of £122million – is impossible to rely on.
It currently ‘protects’ 24 miles on the M25 around London and 13 miles on the M23 in Surrey.
Staff view alerts from the system, which makes a ‘groaning’ sound when it is triggered, as ‘low priority’ because it goes off so often. Slow-moving traffic and even road signs set it off.
In a series of logs seen by the Mail, staff say it often misses breakdowns. Labour’s transport spokesman Jim McMahon lambasted the tech, saying it ‘isn’t fit for purpose’. ‘The Government is notorious for bad IT projects’, he said. ‘You can’t have a bad IT project when people’s lives are being put at risk.’
Former roads minister Sir Mike Penning said: ‘Even one minute sitting in stranded traffic is unacceptable.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ordered the technology to be installed across the network by March 2023 as part of an 18-point plan to improve safety.
The system works through radar posts spaced every 500metres along the motorway.
They are supposed to identify and locate stopped vehicles and then alert the control room.
Staff are then meant to use CCTV to pinpoint the location and check whether there is an accident or breakdown.
The M3 smart motorway near Camberley in Surrey. The motorways have no hard shoulder for emergencies, and use technology to close off lanes
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ordered the technology to be installed across the network by March 2023 as part of an 18-point plan to improve safety
Former transport minister Andrew Jones said in 2016 the system had been ‘successfully trialled’ and was an ‘important measure… which we believe will help reduce the risk associated with stopping in live lanes.’
In 2019, former Highways England chief Jim O’Sullivan told MPs the system is ‘ground-breaking technology’ and trials on the M25 had ‘proved that it works’.
Mr O’Sullivan, who said they had been ‘perfecting the design of smart motorways for ten to 15 years’, added: ‘Getting it right and making sure it works in all geographies and topographies as we roll it out is very important to us.’
But – in marked contrast – internal reports reveal staff flagged system failures to highways bosses several times over the past few months.
On June 4 an operator warned there had been 48 false alarms in five hours at the same location.
On August 25, staff said the system had been ‘suppressing itself’ and a stranded car ‘in lane one of four not picked up’. Another said the radar system ‘constantly goes off, but nothing is ever there on CCTV. This has been a regular occurrence for over a month now. It needs to be fixed.’
A fourth said a contractor reported a broken-down vehicle on a smart motorway live lane ‘with a recovery truck also stopped in lane one fending it off’ but there was no SVD alert.
An undercover reporter working at the National Highways South Mimms control centre witnessed the system fail to detect a car sitting in speeding traffic on the M25 for more than 30 minutes. Luckily it had been spotted by staff.
A staff member, who has worked at the company for more than a decade, said: ‘If that [SVD] works the way it should work, it’s much safer…But he could be sat there for hours and we wouldn’t even know about it, and if we don’t know we haven’t set signals.’
He added: ‘That’s when a truck comes along and hits him and we go ‘Oh well we didn’t know he was there’. If nobody reports it and he gets killed and they go, ‘Why wasn’t it actioned?’ ‘Because it never flashed up’.’
One operator said: ‘When they introduced the smart motorways, the justification for getting rid of the hard shoulder is they’d have all this extra technology including this stationary vehicle detection thing. But it’s really bad, it just doesn’t quite work how it should.’
He said four out five times it goes off there is nothing there, and he fears operators will fall into a ‘false sense of security’ and not react with urgency.
A portion of a £150million fund for ’emerging technology’ was spent on the tech in 2016-2017, the agency’s accounts show. Previous reports state it takes operators 17 minutes to spot a broken-down vehicle. Motorists are more than 200 per cent more likely to have a breakdown in a live lane on smart motorways in off-peak times – when speeds are higher, increasing ‘severity’ of potential accidents – compared to conventional motorways.
National Highways said: ‘SVD is an enhancement to the system of features which are standard on all lane running motorways. This is not the case on conventional motorways.
‘It is designed to alert the operator to anything that could constitute an obstruction on the carriageway. This can include a situation where a vehicle has stopped but has then been driven off before further action could be taken by the operator. It could also include temporary traffic signs or debris in the road, helping our operators to direct traffic officers to take action to prevent incidents happening.’
Refuge bays for stranded motorists too far apart
By Daily Mail Reporter
National Highways staff say there are too few emergency bays on smart motorways, leaving motorists dangerously stranded when they break down.
One some stretches the laybys are now 1.5 miles apart – compared with just 400 to 600 metres when trials of the system began more than ten years ago on the M42.
Outraged industry leaders and MPs have demanded more refuge areas on roads that have no hard shoulder so drivers are not marooned in high-speed traffic while awaiting recovery.
Former National Highways chief executive Jim O’Sullivan insisted in 2019 that spacing ‘does not seem to matter from a safety perspective’.
National Highways staff say there are too few emergency bays on smart motorways, leaving motorists dangerously stranded when they break down (file photo)
But one operator, who has worked in the Regional Operations Centre in South Mimms for 14 years, told an undercover reporter from the Mail ‘they haven’t got nearly enough’ Emergency Refuge Areas on the M25.
‘I told them that when they first started bringing [smart motorways] up. There’s too much of a gap between them so that when people break down, they’re stuck, they couldn’t make it to a bay,’ he added.
One National Highways employee, who contacted this paper after reading our investigation, said they were concerned about motorists’ safety.
The worker added: ‘The emergency refuge bays are positioned in very strange positions. Some are located on bends and they are spaced too far apart. ‘They are very unsafe for our customers. The concept works but it needs the tech to run it correctly.’
National Highways said there are 34 emergency areas on the All Lane Running sections of the M25 including ten extra installed since the smart motorways was first introduced
Sir Edmund King, president of the AA, said: ‘If ‘smart’ motorways are to continue, we need to double the number of emergency laybys, retrofitting on existing stretches to create more safe havens for broken down vehicles, and more reliable technology.’
After reading the Mail’s investigation, former roads minister Robert Goodwill, who backs smart motorways, admitted improvements were essential.
He said: ‘We definitely need to make sure we have the refuges closer together and that the cameras and radar work. But I don’t think we should abandon smart motorways completely, we should refine them and make sure they work better.’
He added that when working properly, smart motorways should be safer than conventional ones as they can avert pile-ups by slowing traffic down and also prevent drivers stopping on the hard shoulder, where they are at risk of being hit.
National Highways said there are 34 emergency areas on the All Lane Running sections of the M25 including ten extra installed since the smart motorways was first introduced.
It is considering retrofitting additional areas on existing smart motorways where they are more than one mile apart. A review will be completed by April of next year.
Damning figures that prove smart m-ways do cost more lives
By Susie Coen and David Churchill for The Daily Mail
Official figures show that death rates on smart motorways are up to a third higher than on those with a hard shoulder.
The disclosure blows a hole in repeated claims by ministers and highways bosses that smart motorways are ‘as safe as, or safer than’ their conventional counterparts.
Department for Transport statistics show that for the last two years for which figures are available, ‘live lane fatality rates’ were higher on ‘all lane running’ (ALR) roads.
These motorways have their hard shoulders permanently scrapped and converted into an extra lane, meaning motorists can become marooned in fast-moving traffic.
In 2018, the live lane fatality rate was more than a third higher on the ALR motorways – 0.19 per hundred million vehicle miles compared with 0.14, while in 2019 the rate was eight per cent higher than on conventional motorways – 0.14 versus 0.13.
It comes despite National Highways chief Nick Harris telling MPs this summer that smart motorways are ‘the safest roads in the country’. The figures submitted to MPs this year show death rates were lower on ALR roads in 2015, 2016 and 2017 – meaning they became more lethal from 2018. Figures for last year have yet to be compiled. National Highways, a government-owned company, claims figures for the whole five-year period, from 2015 to 2019, should be looked at rather than recent years.
But a report earlier this month by the Office of Rail and Road watchdog found the figures were ‘limited’ because data was available for only 29 miles of the ALR roads – their total extent in 2015, compared with up to 180 miles today. This has led to suspicions that data has been presented in a way which is favourable to National Highways’ pro-smart motorways stance.
The watchdog also found bosses at the company, formerly Highways England, may have ‘obscured’ the impact of removing the hard shoulder with the way they presented data. It said they used a ‘complex’ method to compile some data and a simpler way would be ‘more transparent’.
It is unclear why the fatality rates on ALR roads overtook that of conventional motorways, but experts pointed to more traffic on the roads. Campaigners say deaths on smart motorways are a direct consequence of the road system itself – because stationary vehicles are stuck in lanes of moving traffic, rather than the simple bad luck of a crash involving moving vehicles.
The M1 smart motorway in Bedfordshire was shut in both directions following a serious road crash
A recent RAC poll found six in ten motorists want smart motorways scrapped.
Sally Jacobs, 83, whose husband Derek was killed on the M1 in 2019, said: ‘Every time [Transport Secretary] Grant Shapps says smart motorways are safer than normal motorways, I want to throw something at the television.’
John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, said the roads were ‘inherently dangerous’. He added: ‘The fact these roads do not have a hard shoulder makes them potentially deadly. They are almost impossible for the police and other emergency services to operate on safely.’
The Department for Transport said: ‘It remains that smart motorways are among the safest in the UK, with the data showing that fatalities are less likely than on conventional ones, and we will continue working to build public confidence in them.’
Bring back the hard shoulder now, plead distraught families
By Susie Coen, Assistant Investigations Editor of The Daily Mail
Families of those killed on smart motorways last night called for the immediate reinstatement of the hard shoulder throughout the network after the Mail’s damning revelations.
Niaz Shazad, 33, the son of Nargis Begum, 62, who was killed on the M1 near Sheffield three years ago, said he feels ‘anger and downright hatred’ when he sees smart motorways hailed ‘as safe or safer than conventional roads’.
Mr Shazad said: ‘We’re going to make sure we get the hard shoulder back by whatever means necessary.’
He said the Mail’s investigation – highlighting a catalogue of lethal flaws in the cameras, radar system, signals and provision of emergency refuge areas – would help push ‘tangible change’ to stop ‘any other families going through what we went through when my mum passed away’.
Niaz Shazad, 33, the son of Nargis Begum, 62, (pictured left with her husband Mohammed Bashir) who was killed on the M1 near Sheffield three years ago, said he feels ‘anger and downright hatred’ when he sees smart motorways hailed ‘as safe or safer than conventional roads’
Mr Shazad was joined in his call by Lynn Reeves, 62, mother of Nathan, 23, one of three who died when a lorry ploughed into a car on the M1 in Bedfordshire in February 2015. Fifty-three have died on smart motorways, with 18 of those partly attributed to how the controversial road system operates.
Mrs Reeves said: ‘If the hard shoulder had never been used as a live lane, then they would have been quite as safe as any other broken down vehicle should be.
‘There needs to be a safe space for motorists – once you’re on that motorway, you just have to pray that your car is OK or someone’s not going to make a mistake.’ Sally Jacobs, 83, whose husband, Derek, 83, died on the M1 near Sheffield, said the Mail’s revelations made it crystal clear that hard shoulders had to be reinstated immediately.
Mrs Jacobs, who was married for 66 years, said: ‘No dithering. Just put it back and stop the lies.
‘They know they’re killing the citizens. They know what’s happening day in, day out.’
The impact on the bereaved is quickly apparent from talking to them: the memories are raw, and the pain still overwhelming.
The scene of a double fatal rta on the M1 near Sheffield that killed Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu who died when a lorry being driven by Prezemyslaw Zbigniew Szuba hit them on an area of smart motorway
Mr Shazad said his mother and father Mohammed Bashir were travelling home from visiting relatives who had been on the Hajj pilgrimage when disaster struck in September 2018.
It was about 9pm when their Nissan Qashqai lost power on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield, which had been converted to a smart motorway with no hard shoulder.
The couple got out of the car and Mohammed, 68, stepped over the safety barrier to call their daughter Saima Aktar.
Suddenly, he heard a huge crash, and assumed two other cars had been in a collision.
But it was pitch black – and he had no idea where his wife was.
Mr Shazad said a doctor pulled over to ask what had happened.
He said: ‘My dad explained that she had been there a moment ago and with the help of this doctor, who I think got her camera phone out, they started looking further and further up the motorway – and that’s where they found her.’ A lorry had hit their car, which in turn hit Nargis, 62, who was then dragged down the motorway. South Yorkshire coroner Nicola Mundy referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider corporate manslaughter charges against National Highways. It remains pending.
Mr Shazad said: ‘No family should have to go through what we had to endure. My dad isn’t even a quarter of the man he used to be.
‘We looked up to him even at this age, and to see him just fall off a cliff to an extent, from where he used to be to where he is, it’s difficult for us all.’
Mrs Reeves described her own pain at losing her son Nathan.
Every Valentine’s Day, she wakes up at 6am and packs her car with hundreds of daffodils. She makes sure she is at Tickford Street Cemetery by 6:45am – the exact time and date Nathan was killed. It was six years ago when Nathan and his friend Tom Aldridge, 20, died on their way home to Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, after a night out.
Mr Shazad was joined in his call by Lynn Reeves, 62, mother of Nathan, 23, (pictured) one of three who died when a lorry ploughed into a car on the M1 in Bedfordshire in February 2015
It was six years ago when Nathan and his friend Tom Aldridge, 20, (pictured) died on their way home to Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, after a night out
Driver Allan Evans, 59, who was giving them a lift, was also killed when a double-decker coach crashed into their car. They had pulled over on to the hard shoulder of the M1 near Flitwick.
The driver of the coach, Alan Peters, then 78, was given a seven-year jail sentence after failing to see signs that the lane was closed.
Mrs Reeves said: ‘We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. It makes me angry.
‘It could have been avoided. Sometimes I look over the motorway when I cross over it while I’m walking my dog. It’s probably a bit sick really, but I envisage how fast that coach must have been going to hit the back of their car.
‘They didn’t stand a chance. If you’ve broken down through no fault of your own, and you’ve got nowhere safe to pull over, what do you do?’
Mrs Jacobs said she ‘doesn’t want to be here any more’ now her husband is dead. Mr Jacobs was killed on a section of the M1 where there is no hard shoulder, after there was a problem with his car.
He was climbing over a barrier when a truck hit the car, which crushed him. Mrs Jacobs said: ‘I keep speaking out because, although it won’t bring my Derek back, I want to stop any other families enduring this.’
Even we police officers don’t feel safe on smart m-ways, so how can ANY driver?
Commentary by John Apter, National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, for The Daily Mail
Motorways are dangerous and unforgiving places at the best of times. Anyone who has been forced to retreat on to the hard shoulder knows that reality.
From a static position by the side of the road, one is only too aware of how the traffic roars past with a thunderous intensity, creating a profound sense of vulnerability.
As a police officer who spent many years of my career on the motorway network, I too am acutely conscious of these dangers.
Like so many of my experienced colleagues and other professionals in the emergency services, I often found my own security tested to the limit in dealing with accidents caused by excessive speed, engine failure, driver error, poor weather or carriageway obstructions.
Motorways are dangerous and unforgiving places at the best of times. Anyone who has been forced to retreat on to the hard shoulder knows that reality, writes John Apter (pictured left with David Wilbraham, the National Police Chaplain
But the inherent risks of motorways are greatly heightened when successive governments decide through a deliberate act of misguided policy to remove one of the essential safety valves from some of the busiest parts of the network.
That is precisely what has happened with the creation of so-called ‘smart motorways’, where the hard shoulder is removed to create an extra live lane, with the aim of easing congestion. Never has the word ‘smart’ been more misused. Given their disastrous record, the term ‘lethal’ might be more appropriate.
Author George Orwell once wrote that political language ‘is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’.
He could have been writing about the destructive enthusiasm of politicians — from all parties — for this ill-conceived, faddish experiment in road transport, which has achieved the exact opposite of its stated purpose.
Not only have smart motorways failed to reduce journey times, as their architects predicted, but they have added a deadly new dimension to car travel in Britain. That sorry truth has been reinforced through the in-depth investigation by this newspaper, led by journalist Susie Coen, whose undercover reports from inside a control room of the National Highways Agency yesterday exposed a catalogue of catastrophic failings in the smart system, from non-functioning cameras to faulty computers.
A lorry ploughed into the back of a Volvo car that was stranded in lane one of the M1 smart motorway when the driver failed to spot the stationary vehicle
Today, the Mail exposes failures in the radar system integral to smart motorways.
This is so important because at the heart of these new motorways is meant to be the use of innovative technology and sophisticated communications to negate the impact of the hard shoulder’s removal.
In theory, vehicle breakdowns will be swiftly spotted, enabling assistance to be provided, speed limits lowered in the vicinity and advice issued to other motorists.
Such is the apparent confidence in this approach that the Government has even boasted that ‘smart motorways are as safe or safer than conventional roads’.
But those words could not be more empty. As the Mail’s inquiry shows, broken promises are matched by broken technology. Because of this inadequacy, motorists can find themselves in a stopped vehicle in a live lane, with the authorities knowing nothing about the incident.
All too often, the control room operators are reliant on software full of glitches and devices which are unable to transmit images. According to the Mail’s audit, carried out on September 17, more than one in ten safety cameras were broken, misted up or facing the wrong way. Even more worryingly, half the cameras on one of the busiest sections of the M25 were faulty.
This paper’s investigation reinforces all the warnings that my own organisation, the Police Federation of England and Wales, has given for years. I have spoken to many police officers who tell me that they do not feel safe on smart motorways, not least because of the unreliable technology.
The hard shoulder has always been a place of refuge — albeit a somewhat precarious one — and its disappearance leaves both motorists and emergency services more exposed than ever. That is why, in the past, I have called smart motorways ‘a death trap’ and have described their introduction as ‘a recipe for disaster’. Those claims are backed up by hard evidence.
In the four years to 2019, 53 people have been killed on smart motorways, making a mockery of the official claims about enhanced safety.
In 2019, the death rate on the smart sections of motorways was 8 per cent higher than on conventional roads. The AA is reportedly so concerned that last year it ordered its recovery crews not to stop at breakdowns on smart motorways.
As the Mail reports today, the Prime Minister has ordered an inquiry into the failings revealed in the paper’s investigation. But what we urgently need is a full review into what has gone wrong so lessons can be learnt.
This should be accompanied by a pause in the expansion of the smart network until all the technological difficulties are resolved. No airline would dream of putting a plane in the skies without being sure that all the cockpit and ground control systems were working properly.
The same should apply to motorways, yet the Government has always seemed to be determined to press on, regardless of the deepening concerns.
But what we urgently need is a full review into what has gone wrong so lessons can be learnt. This should be accompanied by a pause in the expansion of the smart network until all the technological difficulties are resolved
Given the anxieties of the police and the public, the logic behind this insistence is incomprehensible. Whatever the reasons, ministers are continuing with the £6 billion roll-out of the scheme.
Already, 50 sections of the network have been converted to ‘smart’ operations, covering 375 miles, including much of the M1, M25 and M6. By 2023, it is planned to convert another 350 miles, a statistic which will cause many motorists to shudder.
If the original concept of smart motorways had been retained, that idea would not be so disturbing.
When the first trials were launched around 2006, the use of new technology was accompanied by the pledge that, in the absence of the hard shoulder, there would be safety lay-bys at 500-metre intervals, as well as closely spaced gantries that would provide traffic information and guidance.
Those three elements seemed to hold out the prospect that smart motorways would be a success — in fact, trial data showed a significant drop in the accident rate on the new sections, prompting then Labour Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly to claim that safety fears ‘haven’t materialised at all’.
But it is a very different story today. The vital technology on which the scheme depends is not working, as highlighted by the Mail’s report: when a manager says in despair ‘everything’s breaking’ as the control room’s computers fail, and when an operator declares, ‘We’ve got no signals, you’re all going to die.’
Nor have the safety areas at 500-metre intervals been created. On some sections, the gap goes on for miles, with the result that a broken-down vehicle may have to sit in the live lane with speeding traffic coming up behind — a nightmarish scenario that has been fatally enacted for too many bereaved families.
And an insufficient number of signal gantries have been built, so motorists are left ignorant about what obstructions lie ahead.
Urgent change is needed if more loss of life is to be avoided. If the Government is unwilling to make the vital improvements required, this sorry experiment should be drawn to a close.
Source: Daily Mail