29 January 2020
The panel, moderated by the Police Federation's Head of Communications Martin Buhagiar, began with a written statement from Highways England, who declined to attend the conference.
Ché Donald, Vice Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, began with the 'death trap' comment from PFEW Chair John Apter, as widely reported in the national press – "The concerns about Smart Motorways were addressed right from the very start with Sir Mike Penning. Though Highways England would point to the fatalities figures, what you really need to look at is near misses. There’s been a 20% rise in near misses, and each near miss is just a fatality waiting to happen."
"70% of the incidents that are supposed to be Highways England-led, we are attending."
"Death trap is probably the correct phraseology."
Edmund King OBE, President of the AA, said: "A decision was made to save money, and it was known at the time that it would be three times more risky. We raised it at the time, and every year since.
"People are stuck for more than half an hour on average on a live lane just praying that a red X goes up. For us, no matter what the stats are… these roads could be much safer."
Nicholas Lyes, Public Affairs Manager of the RAC, said: "All of the studies, even Highways England’s own figures, show that this is a much higher risk than a regular motorway.
"We need to look now, urgently, at what we can do almost immediately. For us this means better vehicle stopping, more refuge areas, and faster deployment of the red X.
"Our research indicates that a fifth of drivers ignore the red X."
In response to a question on the short stretch of Smart Motorways relative to the rest of the motorway system, Ché Donald pointed out the lack of roads policing officers due to austerity and the demand placed on officers, who are often double-hatting, by Smart Motorways.
Ed King agreed, calling breakdowns on Smart Motorways 'an emergency situation', to which AA patrols cannot respond because it isn’t safe enough, increasing demand on the police.
In answer to the question if Smart Motorways should be scrapped, Ché Donald said, "I would rather get to my destination late than be dead."
Nicholas Lyes brought up his father, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a specially adapted car, making it extremely dangerous for his parents to stop and get out of the vehicle in an emergency.
The panel also addressed questions on the issue of lighting on the motorway and other technology such as warning signs, that, if included initially or properly maintained, could have helped to avoid collisions.
Monday’s Panorama programme, which featured clips of National Chair John Apter, was mentioned several times, as was recent coverage in the media from the conference itself. Edmund King told the conference that he took a phone call from as far afield as Perth, Australia, in concern at the proposed adoption of Smart Motorways there.
Above all, the panel highlighted the urgent need for the government to act on the issue before more lives are lost.