Ten miles of the M6 are to be turned into a smart motorway with no hard shoulder and emergency refuges up to 1.5 miles apart – contravening safety guidance from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Following a review last March, Mr Shapps said the refuges – where vehicles can pull in during an accident or breakdown – should be between three quarters of a mile and a mile apart.
But Highways England bosses are ignoring the safety advice.
Following a review last March, Mr Shapps said the refuges – where vehicles can pull in during an accident or breakdown – should be between three quarters of a mile and a mile apart. Picture: Stock
The Mail can reveal that an assessment of the M6 scheme estimates there will be 101 extra ‘accidents and casualties in all severity categories’ over 60 years.
The internal Highways England document suggests these extra collisions will happen because ‘the scheme will attract more traffic on to the motorway network’.
Grieving mum’s call for change
The mother of a boy of eight killed on a smart motorway has written to Highways England urging it to reconsider its plans for the M6.
Eight-year-old Dev Naran died on the M6 after the hard shoulder was removed temporarily
Dev Naran died on the M6 near Birmingham after the hard shoulder was removed temporarily.
His mother Meera, 37, said: ‘I’m not a fan of smart motorways. In terms of the sections of motorways about to be constructed, I have voiced my concerns and am waiting for a response as a matter of urgency.’
Dev, from Leicester, died when the car he was in, which had halted on a shoulder open to traffic, was hit by a lorry at 56mph in May 2018.
Dev’s mother (pictured together) has written to Highways England urging it to reconsider its plans for the M6
The M6 overhaul, from junction 21a near Warrington in Cheshire to junction 26 near Wigan, will see a total of 20 miles of carriageway turned into smart motorway – ten miles each way.
The hard shoulder will be converted permanently into a lane of traffic. Construction is due to begin next month.
Highways England has admitted at public consultations that it will not be built to fully meet the new safety standards.
Emergency refuges will be up to 1.5 miles apart and on average 1.1 miles apart, although some will meet the three quarters of a mile recommendation.
Scrapping hard shoulders means cars can be marooned in traffic lanes. The closer the refuges are, the more chance drivers have of reaching safety.
There will be six emergency refuges southbound and four northbound on the M6 scheme.
That section carries 120,000 vehicles daily between Lancashire, Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.
Turning it into a smart motorway will cost up to £250million and take around two years.
Rebecca Lush, of the Transport Action Network campaign group, said: ‘Highways England are going against the orders of Grant Shapps by ploughing ahead with another dangerous motorway.
‘It’s time Grant Shapps cancelled the smart motorway programme before more lives are lost.’
Tory MP Karl McCartney, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: ‘All works to spread smart motorways across the network should be halted immediately and their safety investigated.’
Mr Shapps told the committee this month he was making smart motorways safer, adding: ‘I do not approve of the fact that the emergency areas were spaced way too far apart.
‘Ideally, they have to be three quarters of a mile and no more than a mile.
‘I have ordered Highways England to put in more emergency areas.’
He also admitted the rollout of smart motorways, which began before he took charge, had been ‘entirely wrong’, but reversing it was not feasible.
Last month, the Mail reported how a coroner ruled the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the deaths of two drivers on the M1 near Sheffield in 2019 – Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Morgeanu, 22.
Mr Mercer’s wife, Claire, said of the M6 plans: ‘They don’t seem to give a damn about people dying.’
A coroner ruled the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the deaths of two drivers on the M1 near Sheffield in 2019 – Jason Mercer, 44, (pictured with wife Claire) and Alexandru Morgeanu, 22
It emerged at the weekend that the death toll on smart motorways had hit a record. There were 14 deaths in 2019 on those where hard shoulders are full-time or part-time lanes, up from 11 in 2018 and five in 2017.
The Department for Transport said Mr Shapps had pledged £500million for smart motorway safety improvements.
Highways England said the M6 scheme was designed in 2018, too early for his safety guidance from March to be included.
It added: ‘This was designed to be at least as safe, if not safer than the motorway it replaces.’