National Highways is struggling to hire smart motorway workers who can close lanes to prevent crashes – raising further concerns over safety of controversial roads
- Control room operators monitor roads aided by CCTV cameras and radar system
- These operators then close the lanes when there is a breakdown or collision
- But dozens of drivers have been killed on the roads causing concerns over safety
- This includes some who were left marooned in busy lanes of fast-moving traffic
A shortage of smart motorway workers has raised further concerns over the safety of the controversial roads.
National Highways is struggling to recruit employees who spot breakdowns and close lanes to prevent collisions, it was reported.
It comes less than two weeks after the Daily Mail exposed a technical glitch put millions of motorists at risk – when systems monitoring 280 miles of road stopped working for seven hours.
All-lane running smart motorways are designed to reduce traffic by allowing motorists to drive in the hard-shoulder.
National Highways is struggling to recruit employees who spot breakdowns and close lanes to prevent collisions, it was reported
Control room operators, aided by CCTV cameras and a radar system, monitor the roads and close lanes when there is a breakdown or collision.
However, dozens of drivers have been killed on the roads, including some who have been left marooned in busy lanes of fast-moving traffic.
Internal emails seen by the Sunday Telegraph show a National Highways manager discussing the government agency’s ‘low staffing levels’.
They also show on-road traffic officers – who are usually tasked with aiding stranded motorists -were asked to make calls usually handled by control room staff, to ease pressures.
Sarah Campion, a Labour MP who has been campaigning to ban smart motorways, told the Mail that staff had been ‘sounding the alarm for years’ about a lack of safety equipment and faulty systems
This, the employee explains, would allow control room staff to ‘set signs, manage stopped vehicle detection and answer calls from emergency services’.
The number of traffic officers – both on-road and control room operators – employed by National Highways dropped by 90 last year, from 1,628 down to 1,538 in March 2022, according to its most recent annual report.
Sarah Campion, a Labour MP who has been campaigning to ban smart motorways, told the Mail that staff had been ‘sounding the alarm for years’ about a lack of safety equipment and faulty systems.
The Rotherham MP added: ‘It should come as no surprise that people don’t want to work overseeing the deadly smart motorways.
‘I can’t imagine what it must be like to watch motorists stranded without a hard shoulder and be unable to protect them as the safety equipment doesn’t work.’ Last week a senior coroner said more lives were at risk due to a lack of understanding about smart motorways and the dangers they pose.
Writing to National Highways, Nicola Mundy warned there was a risk ‘future deaths will occur’ without a fresh publicity campaign.
It followed the inquest of Nargis Begum, 62, who was fatally injured in 2018 after waiting on a stretch of the M1 with no hard shoulder for more than 16 minutes.
Claire Mercer, founder of campaign group Smart Motorways Kill Campaign, said it was ‘only a matter of time’ before another tragedy took place.
Mrs Mercer, whose husband Jason was killed on a smart motorway in 2019, added: ‘Every time I hear about another crash it just brings home how stupid and how much of a waste of life this all is.’ Duncan Smith, executive director for operations at National Highways, said: ‘We have robust and well-rehearsed mitigation measures in place to deal with any operational challenges facing our network, including those related to technology and staffing.
‘Safety remains our number one priority and an independent investigation is under way to help prevent a recurrence of last week’s system issues.’
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