Smart motorways: Widow campaigns for system to be scrapped after husband killed on road with no hard shoulder

Video report by ITV News London Political Correspondent Simon Harris

A widow from North London whose husband was killed after his van broke down on a motorway without a hard shoulder is campaigning against smart motorways, saying she does not want another family to experience her grief.

Derek Jacobs was driving north on the M1 two years ago when his van blew a tyre.  "He got out the passenger side, and before he could get out the barrier, a car hit his van, crushing it on to him, I assume.

"The car then turned over and a coach hit the car. No one deserves to die that way," his widow Sally tells ITV News London.

His death is one of several that have led to calls for smart motorways to be scrapped.

Smart motorways involve various methods to manage the flow of traffic, including variable speed limits and using the hard shoulder as a live running lane. They are designed to increase capacity without the more disruptive and costly process of widening carriageways.

Designed growing concern over the safety of smart motorways, the government remains committed to them. The M25 is already a smart motorway, part of the M4 through west London and Berkshire is being converted into a smart motorway at the cost of £800million.

An “evidence stocktake” published by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in March 2020 said that “in most ways” they were as safe or safer than conventional motorways, but the chance of a crash involving a moving vehicle and a stationary vehicle was higher when the hard shoulder was removed.

Sally Jacobs Credit: ITV News London

As a result of the "stocktake", an 18-point action plan included installing more places to stop in an emergency and faster rollout of a radar-based system to detect broken-down vehicles.

Drivers are advised to pull into an emergency refuge area (ERA) if possible. If you come to a standstill in a live lane, call 999, switch on your hazard warning lights and stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on. Once Highways England is alerted to a stopped vehicle in a live lane, overhead gantries will display a red X to indicate the lane is closed.

But an AA poll of 15,000 motorists suggested only one in 10 drivers felt safer on smart motorways without a hard shoulder than traditional motorways, a view echoed by drivers ITV News London spoke to.

Drivers are advised to pull into an emergency refuge area (ERA) if possible. Credit: ITV News London

"You don't get to chose where you breakdown," said one driver.

"The government says to wait another couple of minute pull over to the side. You don't always get that chose.

Another motorist admitted he had "come close a few times myself to rear ending someone that's just stopped".

A statement from Highways England said: "The government's evidence stocktake of the safety of smart motorways analysed a wealth of data and found that in most ways they are as safe as, or safer than, conventional motorways."We are committed to delivering the stocktake actions to further raise the bat on smart motorways safety."

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at RAC, told ITV News London: "We know that if a vehicle stops in the live lane there is a more than 200% increase, or risk, in them being involved in a collision. And that is really, really worrying."Breaking down at the best of times is a terrifying experience, you don't want to be doing it on a motorway. But if you do it on a live lane, for drivers, that would be a terrifying experience."

Sally is now campaigning to end smart motorways.

She tells ITV News London: "You put on a brave face for everybody, but in your heart, you die a little more everyday without him."