Grieving families slam Rishi Sunak’s ‘disgusting’ U-turn over his pledge to axe new smart motorways 


Grieving relatives of drivers killed on smart motorways have accused Rishi Sunak of a ‘disgusting’ U-turn over his pledge to axe the controversial roads.

During the Tory leadership contest this summer the Prime Minister vowed a ‘comprehensive ban’ on new smart motorway schemes and branded them ‘unsafe’.

But today his Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, left the door open to more being built.

He said ministers would continue the previous Government’s strategy of pausing their roll-out while gathering more safety data from existing schemes.

Officials will then decide ‘whether or not we roll out any more of these motorways’, Mr Harper said.

During the Tory leadership contest this summer the Prime Minister pledged a 'comprehensive ban' on new smart motorway schemes and branded them 'unsafe'

During the Tory leadership contest this summer the Prime Minister pledged a ‘comprehensive ban’ on new smart motorway schemes and branded them ‘unsafe’

Yesterday his Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, left the door open to more being built

Yesterday his Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, left the door open to more being built

Speaking to LBC, he added: ‘You’ll know my predecessor-but-one [Grant Shapps] paused rolling out any new smart motorways until the department could gather evidence over a significant period of time about their operation, about their safety record… and that position remains the case.’

But it is in stark contrast to this summer, when Mr Sunak said: ‘Smart motorways are unpopular because they are unsafe.

Critics say smart motorways are 'death traps' and want the hard shoulders restored, as broken down cars can be smashed into from behind as there's no safety lane

Critics say smart motorways are ‘death traps’ and want the hard shoulders restored, as broken down cars can be smashed into from behind as there’s no safety lane

‘We need to listen to drivers, be on their side and stop with the pursuit of policies that go against common sense.’

He went on to promise a ‘comprehensive ban’ on new schemes.

Relatives of those killed on smart motorways hit out at the U-turn.

Sally Jacobs, 83, whose 83-year-old husband Derek was killed on the M1 in 2019, said: ‘I’m disgusted because the Conservatives keep promising everything and then do a U-turn.

Sally Jacobs, 83, whose 83-year-old husband Derek was killed on the M1 in 2019, said: 'I'm disgusted because the Conservatives keep promising everything and then do a U-turn

Sally Jacobs, 83, whose 83-year-old husband Derek was killed on the M1 in 2019, said: ‘I’m disgusted because the Conservatives keep promising everything and then do a U-turn

‘Even yesterday with COP27, he wasn’t going and now he is. We keep getting promises about things and nothing happens.

‘More people have been killed on smart motorways since Derek and it goes on and on and on. What are they waiting for?

‘They know these roads are killing people and yet they’re still rolling them out. It’s destroyed me and my family.’

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason was killed on a stretch of the M1 with no hard shoulder in 2019, added: ‘Rishi should follow through on his promise, scrap them and restore the hard shoulder immediately.’

Former transport secretary Grant Shapps paused the roll-out of 120 miles of all-lane running (ALR) smart motorways, which have their hard shoulders removed and turned into an extra live lane, in January.

Claire Mercer (left) has mounted a prominent campaign against smart motorways, arguing that her husband Jason, 44, (right) would not have died if there had been a hard shoulder

Claire Mercer (left) has mounted a prominent campaign against smart motorways, arguing that her husband Jason, 44, (right) would not have died if there had been a hard shoulder 

He said five years’ worth of safety data would be collected before a decision about whether to press ahead with them.

However, around 100 miles more of the schemes are being built and opened because they were more than 50 per cent complete in January.

And existing ALR motorways, of which there are around 350-400 miles if both sides of the carriageway are included, remain open.

Critics say they are ‘death traps’ and want the hard shoulders restored, as broken down cars can be smashed into from behind as there’s no safety lane.

Last week the Mail revealed how millions of drivers were potentially put at risk during a terrifying near-national outage of life-saving technology on smart motorways.

The system controlling hundreds of miles of the controversial carriageways had to be rebooted following a ‘glitch’ that meant it was out of action for seven hours, including the evening rush hour.

Nearly three-quarters of the entire smart motorway system was affected, with National Highways control room staff unable to activate signs supposed to warn drivers within 20 seconds of a vehicle breaking down in a live lane.

Asked about our report, Mr Harper said: ‘Clearly National Highways will look at what happened with the systems last week.

‘They will take the appropriate steps to deal with that and I know they’re working on making sure that that doesn’t happen again.

‘And that evidence, that set of events, will feed into the evidence base that ministers make in the future.’



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