Smart motorways are deadly and dumb – ministers have blood on their hands

THIS will come as no surprise but I’m not an engineer.

You will not be shocked to hear that I’m not a scientist. I won’t knock you over with a feather if I tell you I am not the Secretary of State for Transport.

But I am very, very sure that if I’d sat in on any planning meetings for Britain’s new so-called “smart” motorways over the past seven years or so, I’d have voiced my disapproval in the strongest terms.

For those who don’t know — and I was one up until two years ago — the purpose of a “smart” motorway is to smooth out the traffic flow by monitoring vehicle numbers with cameras and varying the speed limit accordingly. But most fundamentally — and lethally — smart motorways have no hard shoulder.

Instead, this safe and protected area, where cars can break down away from speeding traffic, is converted into yet another traffic lane, supposedly aiding the flow of traffic.

If a car breaks down, a red cross is displayed to ­drivers on a sign above the affected lane. Sounds like a blinding idea. After all, I’ve lived in this glorious country for just over 43 years and I dread to think how much of that time I’ve spent sitting in motorway traffic jams.

You’d think the idea of more spacious motorways would be music to my ears. Now that we’re almost back to work, we’ve been reminded how traffic congestion appears to be getting worse by the week.

But when you live in a rural area like I do, with only one bus into town per day, a car is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. And yet the very idea of removing the motorway hard shoulder is as terrifying on paper as it is in real life. I vividly recall hearing Claire Mercer relay the devastating story of her husband Jason, who was killed in 2019 on a stretch of the M1 smart motorway without a hard shoulder.

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Sitting duck

The objectives behind smart motorways — essentially that they are modern, technology-driven and more efficient — had made him a sitting duck. Statistically, motorways are the safest roads we have — you are less likely to die on a motorway than a country lane, for example.

And yet a number of motorists have been killed on what was once the hard shoulder, an area that used to be one of safety but which has been converted into a lethal, live lane.

How on earth anyone ever thought this was a good idea, I don’t know.

And this week MPs expressed their alarm at the ongoing construction of these lethal roads, calling on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to abolish them. This is five years after a Select Committee report called on the Government to halt their roll-out.

There have been major issues with the signalling systems. Less than a quarter of adults feel safe travelling on motorways without a hard shoulder and I’m not sure what other compelling evidence the Government needs.

The death toll on motorways that still have a hard shoulder is HALF that of those where all lanes are active.

Time to put the brakes on, Mr Shapps. Surely admitting to mistakes has got to be a better ­conclusion than more blood on your hands?

Instead of listening to the experts and hearing the evidence, the DfT is choosing to talk about “retrofitting” more emergency refuge areas to its brilliant new motorways.

Because if you haven’t already been forced to sit in heavy congestion where three lanes have been reduced to one over the past few years as engineering work goes on and on, what you really want to do is spend more time sitting in a ­stationary car while workers restore the areas they have so skilfully removed.

You couldn’t make it up. It would be almost comical if it hadn’t caused so many deaths.

How have things been allowed to get this bad? Who has allowed these killer roads to be rolled out, despite ongoing issues with safety cameras being broken or facing the wrong way, despite the many warnings from safety organisations, whistleblowers and bereaved families?

And still Grant Shapps continues to drive his juggernaut of denial through the shocking ­evidence, around the damning reports and past the fatal testimonies — all the while throwing good money after bad.

Time to put the brakes on, Mr Shapps. Surely admitting to mistakes has got to be a better ­conclusion than more blood on your hands?


ON Tuesday, November 9, my ­second-born Ungrateful turns 21.

I know they say about kids ­growing up that you’ll blink and miss it. And while it’s been a hard slog with this one, this birthday has crept up on me like no other.

As some of you might know, Bo was born with CHD – congenital heart disease – which was ­diagnosed at my five-month anomaly scan.

At the time I was told the doctors just didn’t know if she would ­survive surgeries and, if she did, they could only hope she would live into her teens.

She has surpassed my and many people’s expectations.

There were long, hard times when there was no light at the end of the tunnel, when the task of keeping her alive seemed insurmountable, when I felt I would falter and could not go on.

But go on you do, because you’re a parent and the love is unconditional.

What carried me through the darkness – the weeks spent in ­hospital, sleeping on hospital floors, saying goodbye to her before open-heart surgeries and signing consent forms acknowledging risk – was the support of others. But especially strangers.

I know they say about kids ­growing up that you’ll blink and miss it.

As a sleb, I spoke about her in the media before she was born and while she was having treatment and toddling her way through the bumpy road of life, dodging death many times.

And I cannot begin to describe how letters from complete strangers gave me comfort and offered me encouragement during those times when I felt at my lowest ebb. There was no social media in those early days.

Media was the social media. I can say with my hand on my reasonably shaped heart, that without that exposure and without that positive contact from families, parents and children who took the trouble to share their stories with me – who took the trouble to put pen to paper and impart their ­experiences – I seriously don’t know if I would have made it through.

And if I hadn’t made it, perhaps my girl would not be ­turning 21 next week. I am here and Bo is here to give hope to those experiencing similar things.

Being in the public eye sometimes brings mixed blessings but I’ve never lost sight of the great British public’s ability to show ­generosity and share their ­experiences with strangers.

Bo and I would like to thank you all for your support. Me from my whole heart and she from her somewhat patched-up heart. Our gratitude knows no bounds.


WHAT joy to see the racecourse revellers at the Melbourne Cup this week when Australia finally opened up its borders and people were allowed to have a taste of freedom again after enduring the world’s longest lockdown.

The state of Victoria alone has had six lockdowns, adding up to 262 days – that’s nearly nine months of stay- home orders.

As was expected, the Australian government has had to abandon its “zero Covid” approach – an impossible target if ever there was one.

And the damage done to people’s mental states has yet to emerge. I’d like to pay tribute to the Australian people for their patience – especially my darling sister, who emigrated there some seven years ago.

Like so many, we’ve both found it so hard to be apart and the distance has been magnified and multiplied through these incredibly testing times.

Both our mental health has suffered – and, of course, we won’t be the only ones and I know others will have had to brave far worse. But now I have not just a little joy in my heart but also hope.

I hope to see her before too long – to hold my young niece who was just a year old when I last had her in my arms. It’s been incredibly painful. A lot of it has been a blur and the sense of hopelessness – the interminable passing of time and the perpetuity of doom – has been palpable.

I hope we will be reunited before too long. As I hope to be reunited with my sister and nephew living in Sweden. Because hope is all I have.

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