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Smart Motorways - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:58 pm on 13th February 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 3:58 pm, 13th February 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for this debate and apologise for missing the first few seconds of her very clear introduction. I join the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, in questioning the terminology of “smart” motorways and intend to refer to them as “all-lane running” motorways instead.

I declare my personal interest in road safety and the reason for it. When I was 23, I was in a car crash in which my mother was killed. I know what it is like to go through this experience. I know what the impact is like on families, emergency services workers and everyone who sees and is around that experience. For that reason I am passionate about Vision Zero, a policy which aims for no fatalities or serious injuries on roads and which was first adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 1997. It has since been adopted by a number of US states, where between 1997 and 2014 they had a 25% faster fall in road fatalities than those that had not adopted it. The Mayor of London has also adopted this policy, with a target date of 2041 for London. Will the Government consider taking this approach? All-lane running motorways are absolutely out of line with that approach. Indeed, they take us in utterly the wrong, opposite direction. It is acknowledged that, to achieve Vision Zero, a key aspect is road design. As many noble Lords have set out before me, the clear evidence is that this road design is disastrous and dangerous.

There is another reason why I wanted to speak in this debate. Near my home city of Sheffield, there is a 16-mile stretch of the M1 where five people have died in the last 10 months. One of those was Jason Mercer, who was killed by an HGV after he had had a minor incident with a driver called Alexandru Murgeanu. They were both killed when they stopped to exchange details by the side of the road on this all-lane running motorway. I pay tribute to his widow Claire, who has been at the absolute forefront of campaigning on this issue and continues to be. But Claire should not be in the position that she is in now, because, as we have heard from previous noble Lords, there are growing calls for the Government to take action to reverse this disastrous policy. We need to end this danger now.

I will very briefly address an issue beyond road safety: the innately flawed approach that is behind this. It is well known that the term “induced demand” is used in traffic engineering: if you build more roads, you create more traffic. Opening up the hard shoulder is equivalent to building more roads. As the noble Lord said about 12-lane highways, they just fill up. There is a way to increase the capacity of our motorways, and that it is to reduce speed limits. With reduced stopping distances, we could actually fit more cars onto the road. However, it probably will not surprise noble Lords that, as a Green Party Peer, I am not looking to increase the amount of traffic on our roads. We focus on road safety in terms of crashes, but road safety has many other aspects as well, such as air pollution. The area of Sheffield to which I was referring—a very poor area—suffers very badly from air pollution. The last thing it needs on its roads is more cars and the accompanying pollution.

Finally, I will pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about education. As noble Lords will be aware, I am certainly a very large user of social media, but the first time that I saw any safety information from the Government about the whole issue of all-lane running motorways was when I opened the House of Lords briefing for today’s debate. I have not seen anything anywhere else. I am perhaps representative of people rather younger than myself, but surely we should ensure that we reach young drivers through social media campaigns and education about what is happening on our roads.