Claire Mercer with her husband, Jason, who was killed on a smart motorway, and their friend. (Credit: Claire Mercer)

They have been called death traps by campaigners, but smart motorways are still in operation across the country – including here in Nottinghamshire.

Thirty-eight people have been killed on them nationwide in the last five years, with the number of near misses having risen 20-fold since the hard shoulder was removed on one stretch of motorway.

Now Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced the roll-out of smart motorways will be put on hold amid concerns over their safety – despite Highways England insisting they are some of the safest in the world.

But while a significant number of British motorways are smart, the key question on road users’ minds is how do I stay safe on them?

What are they?

Smart motorways are carriageways where the hard shoulder can be/has been turned into an extra traffic lane.

There are three types of smart motorway; ‘all lane running’ where there is permanently no hard shoulder, ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ where the hard shoulder opens as a running lane during busy periods and ‘controlled motorway’ which retains a traditional hard shoulder, but with variable speed limits in the running lanes.

In and around Nottinghamshire, stretches of the M1 are smart, with Junctions 23a-24 and 25-28 near Mansfield being controlled motorway and 24-25 near Nottingham being all lane running.

Breakdown

According to Gov.uk, the best thing to do if your vehicle is damaged or appears to have problems is exiting the motorway.

However, if this isn’t possible then emergency refuge areas are available, marked by blue signs with an orange SOS telephone symbol.

If you can’t get to an emergency area, you are advised to move your car to the hard shoulder or furthest left lane.

Once you’ve come to a standstill, put your hazards lights on and exit your car via the left hand door and go onto the verge.

No go zone

On smart motorways there are overhead gantries which display variable speed limits above each lane, but sometimes there is a Red X over a lane.

This means you must stay out of that lane, as there may be an incident or people working ahead.

It is illegal to drive in a lane closed by one of these signs and if you’re caught you can receive a fixed penalty of up to £100 and three points, with some cases requiring more severe penalties or a court appearance.

However, despite these outlined safety precautions 38 people have still died on smart motorways in the last five years.

Campaigner Claire Mercer, founder of Smart Motorways Kill, believes they should be scrapped.

She set up the group after her husband Jason and Mansfield man Alexandru Murgeanu were killed when a lorry ploughed into the pair as they exchanged details following a minor collision on a stretch of smart motorway on the M1 near Sheffield in June 2019.

Claire and Smart Motorways Kill are campaigning for a judicial review of the decision to allow smart motorways to be implemented and have launched a crowd funding campaign for their legal battle.

They want to raise £20,000 and have so far raised £8,495 towards their goal.

“The main objective is to get the judicial review completed into court,” said Claire.

“The sole purpose of that is to get smart motorways completely scrapped legally through the courts.”