Smart motorway safety absent in fatal crash

Smart motorway safety absent in fatal crash 2
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No smart motorway safety in fatal crash: Driver died after his car broke down on stretch of road that had no life-saving technology

  • In Monday’s early hours, a man in his 40s was killed between junctions 16 and 17 
  • Road bosses are facing questions over whether the tragedy was avoidable 
  • SVD systems are still not operational nearly five years after stretch opened
  • SVD alerts traffic officers and CCTV staff to vehicles marooned in live traffic
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A motorist died in a crash after breaking down on a smart motorway where life-saving technology was not up and running – nearly five years after the stretch opened.

Road bosses are facing questions over whether the tragedy on the M1 was avoidable if stopped vehicle detection (SVD) systems had been fitted earlier.

The technology has been installed where the crash happened, but is not yet operational. National Highways said it needs more testing before it can go live.

Road bosses are facing questions over whether the tragedy on the M1 was avoidable if stopped vehicle detection (SVD) systems had been fitted earlier

Road bosses are facing questions over whether the tragedy on the M1 was avoidable if stopped vehicle detection (SVD) systems had been fitted earlier

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The stretch in Northamptonshire opened in November 2017, but SVD only began being fitted in October last year. 

This is despite the roads agency pledging to MPs in 2016 that all smart motorways would be fitted with SVD and be operational within a few years.

The SVD system is designed to alert traffic officers and CCTV staff to vehicles marooned in live traffic, often on ‘all lane running’ (ALR) motorways where the hard shoulder is permanently removed.

In the early hours of Monday, a man in his 40s was killed between junctions 16 and 17 on the M1 after his Mercedes broke down on the inside lane.

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Four others were injured when a Toyota Previa smashed into the rear of the Mercedes at around 3.16am.

An internal National Highways operations log, obtained by the Mail, lays bare how the incident unfolded. 

The development of the smart motorway at Junction 14 of the M1 with the characteristic long purple power cable down the central reservation

The development of the smart motorway at Junction 14 of the M1 with the characteristic long purple power cable down the central reservation

It says ‘we were unaware of the vehicle at the time it occurred so no [safety] signs and signals were present’ and adds there were ‘a number of near misses’ before the crash.

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The tragedy came as three National Highways chiefs were awarded £60,000 in bonuses last year. 

Chief executive Nick Harris was given a £20,000 bonus, taking his total remuneration for 2021-22 to £355,124, while his predecessor also pocketed £20,000 despite stepping down a year earlier amid criticism over the roll-out of smart motorways.

And chief financial officer Vanessa Howlison was also handed a £20,000 bonus.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘Our deepest sympathies are with anyone affected by this tragic incident.

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‘While the rollout of new smart motorways is paused, we will continue to further improve the safety of smart motorways in operation.

‘This includes investing £900million to equip them with stopped vehicle detection, enforcement cameras, and additional places to stop in an emergency.’

National Highways’ head of service delivery, Andrew Butterfield, said: ‘Every road death is a tragedy and our thoughts are with all those affected by this incident.

‘At this early stage, while it is being investigated it would not be appropriate for us to comment on the circumstances or the cause.’ 

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