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Smart motorways put thousands of lives at risk by getting rid of hard shoulder, new figures show 

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Smart motorways put thousands of lives at risk by getting rid of hard shoulder, new figures show

  • Road chiefs claim new routes – which do not have a hard shoulder – are safe 
  •  But motoring groups and MPs have raised serious concerns over their safety
  • Figures revealed 19,316 motorists suffered horror of breaking down in a live lane

Thousands of drivers have had their lives endangered after breaking down on ‘smart motorways’, the boss of Highways England admitted yesterday.

Road chiefs claim the revamped routes – which do not have a hard shoulder – are safe because they have regularly-spaced refuges.

But motoring groups and MPs have raised serious concerns over their safety because many drivers have no choice but to stop on the carriageway.

Thousands of drivers have had their lives endangered after breaking down on 'smart motorways', the boss of Highways England admitted yesterday

Thousands of drivers have had their lives endangered after breaking down on ‘smart motorways’, the boss of Highways England admitted yesterday

Figures revealed that 19,316 motorists suffered the horror of breaking down in a live lane in 2017 and 2018 – a rate of 26 drivers every day. This accounted for 38 per cent of all stoppages on smart motorways.

The figure came in a letter from Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan to MPs on the transport committee. 

The committee wrote to Mr O’Sullivan in August with concerns over the safety of smart motorways. 

His reply revealed how Highways England is trying to increase the frequency and visibility of lay-bys – known as emergency refuge areas.

The intervals between emergency areas will be reduced from a maximum of 1.5miles to one mile – but work on it will not start until next year.

1 in 10 licences out of date 

Almost three million motorists could be risking a £1,000 fine because they are unwittingly driving with an out-of-date licence.

Drivers are failing to realise their photocard licence automatically expires after ten years and needs to be renewed and kept updated to stay valid.

A poll of 2,000 motorists by the Post Office found 44 per cent are unaware of the requirement, with 51 per cent saying they have no idea when their licence expires. Upon checking, one in ten (9 per cent) found theirs was invalid. More than 33million drivers are licenced in the UK, suggesting almost three million could face the fine.

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Martin Edwards, of the Post Office, which can renew licences, said this has implications for driving legally but also ‘the majority of people using their driving licence as their primary source of ID’.

Work has already started on painting lay-bys bright orange to aid visibility and installing new signs to tell drivers how far away the next refuge area is. This will finish in the spring.

The letter also reveals that 71 per cent of stops made in the lay-bys are not emergency-related, raising fears that drivers in genuine emergencies might be unable to stop as the areas are full.

In another sign that drivers are failing to understand the rules, Highways England issued 190,000 letters to motorists caught driving in lanes marked with a red X – the symbol used to designate a closed lane on a smart motorway.

Automatic detection of ‘red X contraventions’ will begin this autumn. Drivers who are caught will be fined £100 and given three points on their licence.

The AA last night described the revelation as ‘simply unacceptable’ and said motorists could die unless ‘urgent action’ is taken to improve safety.

Four people were killed on the M1 in just ten months after being hit by traffic in the live lane that used to be the hard shoulder. In each case, the victim died after failing to reach a refuge area on the same 16-mile stretch of the motorway.

The number of motorway deaths is increasing, figures revealed last month, with 107 killed on motorways last year – up 8 per cent on 2017.

A Highways England spokesman last night said that ‘smart motorways include more features to further enhance safety than conventional motorways’.

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