For what is possibly the first time, I read of a Police and Crime Commissioner who was actually talking sense.
BBC Today were talking about the badly-misnamed ‘Smart’ motorways; so-called because they didn’t want to spend £18 millions extra per mile by installing Refuge Areas at the original design distance, namely 500 metres. So they built Refuges at a distance of up to 2 miles, saving £millions. They hadn’t allowed for the Radar setup to spot a breakdown in the former Hard Shoulder, so they built the gantries, switched on the running lights, opened up the Hard Shoulder to normal fast-running traffic: and hoped for the best.
On one sector of the M25, prior to the change to ‘Smart’, there were 72 near misses, or accidents that nearly happened in the previous five years. Since the changeover, there there have been 1,485 in five years.
South Yorkshire PCC Dr Alan Billings stated that “The Department for Transport and Highways England have argued all along that these sorts of motorways are actually safe, they even go as far as to say they are safer than ordinary motorways, now I think that whatever formula they are using to come to that conclusion is wrong.
“The coroner in his verdict has made it pretty clear that these two particular lives in South Yorkshire would not have come to such a sad end if there had been a hard shoulder there, so I think this is new evidence they have to take into account.”
He added: “If they thought this type of motorway was even smarter, or safer, than a conventional motorway, then why not convert the entire system to smart motorways, making it safer? As soon as you say it, I think you realise it’s absurd.
“I think they (smart motorways) were done originally not because it was a safer way of doing a motorway, I think it was done in order to expand the capacity, get the traffic flowing by having an extra lane, but to do it cheaply, and I think we’re trading cost – cheapness – for other people’s lives.”
Adjudicating on two crash deaths on a ‘Smarter’ motorway’, coroner David Urpeth found that Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu were unlawfully killed; but Mr Urpeth also warned there was “an ongoing risk of future deaths” from smart motorways without a hard shoulder.
Highways England said it was addressing many of the points raised.
The plain, unvarnished truth is that all these deaths were completely avoidable; they died because of a feverish need to get things done on the cheap, to get the hard shoulder transformed into a ‘running’ lane, without the radar which might have given time to alert staff, and close the lane!