MPs demand M1 smart motorway in Northamptonshire is put on hold until extra safety measures in place

Radar system to spot stranded drivers and extra emergency refuges needed for £373m project

Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 3:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 3:03 pm

MPs are demanding the M1 through Northamptonshire gets extra safety measures before it is turned into a smart motorway.

Top of their list of measures is a radar-based vehicle detection system to spot stranded cars between Junction 13 at Milton Keynes and Junction 16 for Northampton and Daventry.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Roadside Rescue and Recovery also wants more emergency lay-bys along a 33-mile stretch which is due to become a a four-lane carriageway with no hard shoulder in March 2022.

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MPs are demanding more safety spots for stranded drivers before the M1 is turned into a smart motorway.

The day after BBC Panorama revealed rises in the number of near-misses and deaths, the group’s report also demanded the roll-out of new smart motorways should be halted until three years of improved safety data can be obtained.

That could delay the M1 project going live by at least 12 months.

Chairman Sir Mike Penning, who approved introducing smart motorways while serving as a transport minister, said the system being designed for Northamptonshire did not resemble the design he agreed to.

Sir Mike said: “It gives me no pleasure to present these findings today – they will be of little succour to the families who are without loved ones today because of design faults in all lane running smart motorways.

The M1 in Northamptonshire is being turned into a four-lane motorway with no hard shoulder.

“We found that the roll-out of all lane running has been conducted with a shocking degree of carelessness – smart motorways today do not resemble the designs I signed off as roads minister.

"And Highways England appear to have casually ignored the commitments they made to the House of Commons in 2016. That is not acceptable. They have the safety of millions of road users in their hands.”

Sir Mike Penning agreed to the expansion of smart motorways in 2010 -- including a stretch of the M1 between junction 10 and 13 which opened in 2012 -- after a successful pilot on the M42 near Birmingham.

Safety refuges allowing broken down motorists to get off the main carriageway were placed 600 metres apart during the pilot.

MP Sir Mike Penning headed the parliamentary group which delivered a damning report.

But the £373million M1 project through Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire will have just 38 refuges -- one approximately every 1,400 metres.

Just two sections of Britain’s 200 miles of smart motorway currently have the radar system designed to spot stranded cars.

A Highways England statement said: “Any death on our roads is one too many, and our deepest sympathies remain with the family and friends of those who lost their lives. 

“The Transport Secretary has asked the Department for Transport to carry out, at pace, an evidence stocktake to gather the facts about smart motorway safety. We are committed to safety and are supporting the Department in its work on this.”

Watch BBC Panorama, ‘Britain’s Killer Motorways?’ on BBC iPlayer.