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'People need to stay away if they can - it's not safe': Whistleblower tells LBC a smart motorway outage is risking lives

31 August 2023, 11:18 | Updated: 31 August 2023, 17:59

Variable speed signs showing a 60 mph speed limit on a gantry over a smart motorway with National Highways vehicle in foreground in England.
Variable speed signs showing a 60 mph speed limit on a gantry over a smart motorway with National Highways vehicle in foreground in England. Picture: Alamy
Henry Riley

By Henry Riley

A whistleblower at National Highways – the government-owned company that operates motorways and major roads in England – has told LBC that a planned Smart Motorway outage is putting lives at risk.

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The planned outage means that Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) is down. This is the mechanism which detects broken-down vehicles in live lanes on smart motorways.

There was an outage on the M1 between Junctions 39 and 42 on Wednesday, with planned maintenance work.

The whistleblower also said that there was planned maintenance for Wednesday afternoon on the M1 between Junctions 30 and 31, from midday until 1:30pm.

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The National Highways worker said: "People need to stay away if they can. It's not safe."

The smart motorways, which currently make up around 10 percent of England's motorway network, have faced regular criticism since their inception from families who claim countless deaths could have been avoided.

The motorways use a combination of variable speed limits and, for some, the conversion of hard shoulders to active lanes in order to manage traffic, with drivers often forced to stop in live lanes where no emergency stopping zone is available.

The campaign group Smart Motorways Kill estimates that 79 people in total have been killed on these stretches of the motorway.

Claire Mercer from the campaign group Smart Motorways Kill told LBC: "Yet again, time after time it’s just proven that the 'smart' motorway system is not fit for purpose. These 'planned outages' are a serious concern, why are we not informed so we can choose whether to use a system that is not working."

Ms Mercer, who lost her husband Jason on the same motorway in June 2019, added: "Where else in day to day life are we not informed that a dangerous environment is more dangerous than normal, the governing body know about it and aren’t telling us? Surely this is not just dereliction of duty of care it’s active endangerment of the public."

Pensioners die in smart motorway crash in coroner's footage

In response, Andrew Page-Dove, the operational control director for National Highways, said: "Safety is our top priority and we have carried out planned essential maintenance on the stopped vehicle detection on the M1 in the North East today.

"This involved short, controlled outages on some small sections of the M1. To mitigate we lowered speed limits, increased patrolling by our traffic officers and actively monitored CCTV."

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