About four months ago I found myself attending a Speed Awareness Course having been caught driving at 35mph in a 30mph zone.

Fair enough and better than points on my driving licence.

Anyway, the guy leading the course was telling us how fab ‘ smart ‘ motorways are: traffic information relayed in real time on the traffic signs, constant monitoring of traffic flow and, the pièce de résistance, no need for a traditional hard shoulder because, as soon as anyone breaks down,it’s immediately spotted by the all-seeing eye , traffic is diverted around the hapless motorist and help is on its way.

At the time I found this hard to accept but you don’t like to create a fuss and I needed him to pass me as a successful course attendee.

We are now better informed and it turns out that, tragically, at least 8 people have died in the last few years when their broken down vehicle has been rear – ended by another whilst broken down and stationary on the hard shoulder.

One such fatality was that of Dev Naran who died on 31st May 2018.

At the Inquest into his death, the spotlight was firmly on the safety aspects of smart motorways and Highways England’s assertions concerning safety quickly began to unravel

Firstly, stationary vehicles are not monitored or responded to. Therefore, if you break down on the hard shoulder, you are a sitting duck.

Secondly, Highways England Chief Executive, James O’Sullivan, told the Transport Select Committee that smart motorways are confusing. Road users are unsure when a hard shoulder is an active lane and when it is not.

Thirdly, he accepted that Highway England’s own research into the safety of smart motorways was incomplete.

His conclusion? No further smart motorways with dynamic hard shoulders will be built.
Of no consolation to the families of loved ones who have died but at least other lives will have been saved in the long run.

A Freedom of Information Act request sent by Panorama to Highways England has been met with an admission that 38 people have died on smart motorways in the last 5 years.

The tragic death of Nev Daran was referenced and Highways England has been accused of providing misleading information regarding the so-called benefits of smart motorways with their confusing dynamic hard shoulders .

Transport Minister Grant Shapps has promised to fix smart motorways but doesn’t say how.

Hopefully, the Government will consult with independent organisations such as the AA and implement measures to ensure there are no further deaths caused by the status of the motorway.

Notwithstanding, Government promises to fix the issues, they have not done so.

More people tragically died following which there have been a number of Inquests.

In 2018, Nargis Begum died after breaking down on the M1 at a place where there was no hard shoulder as it had been designated a smart motorway section.

She had been stopped 16 minutes before another vehicle ploughed into her car killing her.

Even then, it took a further 6 minutes before the motorway warning signs were activated.

At a pre-Inquest review hearing yesterday in Doncaster, the coroner, Ms Mundy expressed concerns that ‘ nobody has responsibility for monitoring cameras ‘ which feed the footage from smart motorway cameras and drivers were unaware that the onus was on them to report the fact they had broken down.

Ms Mundy stated that Highways England should be investigated for possible manslaughter charges to be brought as a result of Mrs Begum’s death.

Highways England has said that the footage of Mrs Begum’s broken down car would have been sent to a ‘busy’ regional control centre staffed by seven or eight people who would, simultaneously, be receiving images from 450 other cameras.

How safe does that make you feel?

Yes, thought as much.

Richard Whitaker
Solicitor