Police Federation chief 'gobsmacked' at roll out of smart motorways

Police Federation chief says he’s ‘gobsmacked’ by Government’s continued roll out of smart motorways after 38 were killed on the ‘death trap’ roads

  • Police Fed. chief ‘gobsmacked’ at govt. decision to roll out Smart Motorways 
  • ‘They are inherently dangerous by the design of them,’ Mr Apter warned
  • He referred to the 38 deaths on new motorways as well as the serious injuries  
  • Transport bosses in West of England planning on new Smart motorway scheme 
  • They have unveiled proposals to convert sections of the M4 and the M5 

Police Federation chief John Apter has reiterated his view that Smart Motorways are ‘death traps’ and says he has been left ‘gobsmacked’ at the Government’s decision to roll them out. 

Speaking to Eamonn Holmes on talkRADIO this evening, Mr Apter stressed ‘you can’t flip a coin on public safety’ and pointed out that 38 people had lost their lives on the experimental motorways. He has previously called for the Government to suspend the motorways entirely.  

His comments come as transport chiefs unveiled proposals to turn the M4 and M5 into nearly 30 miles of Smart Motorways despite mounting fears over the safety of the road network.

Police Federation chief John Apter has reiterated his view that Smart Motorways are ‘death traps’ and says he has been left ‘gobsmacked’ at the Government’s decision to roll them out

This eight mile section of the M4 is one of the locations planners want to turn into a Smart Motorway

Map showing the location of the proposed Smart Motorways on the M4 and the M5, and insetm the locations of the Smart Motorway network

Planners want to convert eight miles of the M4 between Bristol and Bath along with 20 miles of the M5, between Cribbs Causeway and Weston Super Mare.

Highways England insists smart motorways – where the hard shoulder is used as a regular lane – are safe because they have refuges for broken-down vehicles. 

Mr Apter, National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, once again branded the motorways a ‘death trap’ and expressed his strong disagreement with the proposal on Tuesday evening, saying: ‘I think the name Smart Motorways is a bit misleading because they are anything but smart. They are inherently dangerous by the design of them.’

‘They are death traps, simple as that. They are so inherently dangerous.’  

He went on to refer to the 38 deaths on Smart Motorways in five years, the number of serious injuries and the ‘incredibly high’ number of near misses. 

The 20 mile section of the M5, between junction 17 and the new junction 21a, that could be turned into a Smart Motorway

The new Smart Motorway scheme has been put forward in a plan by the West of England Combined Authority, in order to ‘actively manage the flow of traffic’ on that section of the road.

The authority, made up of three of the councils in the region – Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire, published the proposals in a report setting out a list of projects for completion over the next two decades.

t would see the section of road between junction 19 and junction 18 on the M4 and between junction 17 and the new junction 21a on the M5 being turned into a Smart Motorway, Bristol Live reports. 

Families of some of the victims have called on the government to end the £6billion roll-out of the proposed scheme, and police have branded them a ‘death trap’, saying Highways England ‘misled’ authorities and the public.

Smart motorways use technology to inform drivers of incidents or congestion, allowing them to make decisions about how to continue their journey.

They have variable mandatory speed limits (e.g. reducing the limit to 50mph in the event of a crash or poor visibility), with the hard shoulder often being opened up to traffic in the event of congestion.

They were intended to reduce congestion on the busiest parts of the road network.

But it has left motorists who break down on parts of the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62, in the traffic.

The all-party Parliamentary group for roadside rescue and recovery’s report said the change was ‘shocking and careless’ and had led to the deaths of road users.

The Department for Transport said a review into smart motorways announced in October was still ongoing.

Earlier this week Sam Cockerill demanded the end of the Smart Motorway roll-out after he partner Steven Godbold, 52, a recovery worker, was struck by a lorry on the M25 near Sevenoaks, Kent.

The mother-of-two, from Walderslade, Kent, 35, is now too terrified to drive on smart motorways and believes they should be removed before more people are killed. 

Lorry driver Dariusz Mrozek, 42, who struck Mr Godbold was jailed for death by careless driving for a year and ten months in October 2018.  

Mother of eight-year-old Dev Naran, who was killed on the M6 when his grandfather’s Toyota Yaris was struck by an HGV, has also called on an end to Smart Motorways.

The lorry travelling at 56mph struck Bhanuchandra Lodhia’s vehicle after he stopped on a hard shoulder being used by traffic in May 2018.

She set up the Broken Hearts Club, a WhatsApp group set up by victims’ relatives, to call on the prime minister to ditch the ‘death-trap’ scheme and restore hard shoulders.

Sam Cockerill’s partner, Steven Godbold, 52, a recovery worker, was hit by a lorry on the M25 as he stood on the hard shoulder on a call out in 2017, near Sevenoaks, Kent

The mother of eight-year-old Dev Naran (left with mother Meera Naran), from Leicestershire, who was killed on the M6 when his grandfather’s Toyota Yaris was struck by an HGV, said the government had to restore the hard shoulders until they could find a way to make them safe

Another victim was Jason Mercer, who was killed just 15 minutes after saying goodbye to his wife Claire, 43, when an 18-tonne HGV smashed into him on the M1 near Sheffield last June.

The 44-year-old and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, were killed when a lorry ploughed into them after they pulled over to exchange contact details.

Mrs Mercer claims Highways England is responsible as it failed to provide her husband with a safe zone.

He was the fifth person killed on the same 16-mile stretch of the M1 in just 10 months, while thousands of other people have been left stranded on the side of the road.

Derek Jacobs, 83, was killed on the M1’s northbound carriageway in Derbyshire in March after his van stopped in the first lane.

Police said the 83-year-old’s white Volkswagen Crafter may have come to a halt because of a mechanical fault before it was hit by a red Ford Ka, which was then struck by a coach. 

Earlier this month two lorry drivers were killed on the M1 on the stretch of road recently upgraded to a smart motorway.

Nationally, motorists have to wait an average of 17 minutes to be spotted, and a further 17 minutes before they are rescued.

Where are Britain’s ‘smart’ motorways?

Smart motorways’ are supposed to ease congestion by allowing cars to drive on the hard shoulder at least some of the time, with traffic being monitored via cameras and ‘active’ speed signs.

There are currently more than 20 sections of ‘smart motorway’ on seven different motorways, including on sections of the M1, the M25, the M6, the M42 and the M4. 

Six more are under construction and another 18 are being planned.

However Highways England said a ‘comprehensive’ review of ‘smart motorways’ would be carried out after admitting lower limits were not always correctly set.

There are currently more than 20 sections of ‘smart motorway’ on seven different motorways, including on sections of the M25 and the M6

Jim O’Sullivan, chief executive, said that 40, 50 or 60mph limits were being set before congestion mounted on ‘smart motorways’ in England, using predictions about traffic levels.

Data has showed that 72,348 people were fined on motorways with variable speed limits last year. This was almost double the number a year earlier and a tenfold rise in five years.

Of those, two thirds of fines were handed out to motorists travelling at 69mph or below, even though the national speed limit is 70mph.

Highways England’s advice on driving on smart motorways includes a list of recommendations:

  • Never drive under a red ‘X’ sign
  • Keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries 
  • A solid white line indicates the hard shoulder – don’t drive in it unless directed by signs 
  • Broken white lines show a normal running lane 
  • Use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder 
  • Put hazard lights on if you break down.




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