Commons inquiry launched into safety on Northamptonshire's 'smart' M1

"Public's confidence has been dented by increasing fatalities" says committee chair

By Kevin Nicholls
Friday, 26th February 2021, 2:29 pm
Updated Friday, 26th February 2021, 2:30 pm

MPs are calling for evidence from Northamptonshire's M1 users after launching an inquiry into smart motorways.

Transport Select Committee members plan to look at the controversial traffic management system in response to growing safety concerns.

One stretch of the M1 in Northamptonshire, between junction 16 and junction 19 was converted into a smart motorway with no hard shoulder two years ago.

Work on a £373million upgrade on another stretch of the M1 in Northamptonshire, from Junction 16 — the turn of for the A45 and Daventry — to Junction 13 near Milton Keynes, is due for completion next year.

Yet Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the committee, today admitted: "The public's confidence in smart motorways has been dented by increasing fatalities on these roads."

A BBC Panorama investigation last year revealed 38 people died on Britain’s 200 miles of smart motorways in the previous five years, compared to 90 a year over the whole 2,300-mile network.

But the Government's own stock-take report which followed pointed to lower fatal casualty rates for smart motorways.

Smart motorways are controlled by variable speed limits with hard shoulders replaced by live lanes with refuges for emergencies

Two coroners have expressed public concerns following deaths on the M1 in Yorkshire — one went so far as to refer Highways England, which manages the country's road network, to the

Crown Prosecution Service to consider if corporate manslaughter charges were appropriate.

Northamptonshire Police Chief Constable Nick Adderley has also revealed he is "not a fan" of the smart motorways.

The Milton Keynes-Northampton’s stretch is among a further 300 miles due to be converted to smart motorways controlled by variable speed limits shown on overhead gantries by 2025.

Work on turning the M1 stretch through junction 15 into a smart motorway is due to finish next year

These have emergency refuges at regular intervals instead of a hard shoulder, or a 'dynamic lane' which can be used either as hard shoulder or a live lane according to demand.

Radar-based systems are installed to spot stranded traffic and activate lane closure signs in the event of breakdowns or crashes.

Mr Merriman added: "Road safety charities are also expressing concerns. Will enhanced safety measures help?

"Will the public accept them following an awareness campaign? Or should there be a rethink of government policy?

"There are genuine worries about this element of the motorway network and we want to investigate how we got to this point."

The committee's call for views includes asking for submissions from road users on public confidence in using smart motorways and how this could be improved; and also the impact of smart motorways on the usage and safety of other roads in the strategic road network. The deadline for submissions to the inquiry is April 9.