I have recently been elected Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Roadside Rescue and Recovery. Every year about six people from the rescue and recovery sector lose their lives whilst attending a breakdown. If six police officers were killed every year there would be uproar. We need to do something about this, so I am pleased that the APPG is launching an investigation into all aspects of safety affecting those involved in roadside rescue, recovery and repair.
In particular, we are looking into motorways and All Lane Running – better known as Smart Motorways.
These were first introduced in 2014 when I was the Transport Minister responsible. Smart Motorways use CCTV monitoring and overhead electronic signage to allocate the hard-shoulder as a fourth driving lane when traffic gets busy and to vary speed limits. To replace the hard shoulder these stretches of motorway have emergency refuges sited at regular intervals.
At the time, I did look very carefully at the safety issue, and based on evidence we had then we deemed them safe. However, as the Smart Motorway is rolled out nationally, it appears that the emergency refuges are much further apart than the 500-600m originally tested. I am calling for the rollout to be suspended until we have a better idea on the safety issue.
I commend the incredible work of the Campaign for Safer Roadside Rescue and Recovery (CSRRR) which is led by Sam Cockerill, whose partner Steve Godbold was hit and killed while recovering a vehicle on the side of the M25 in September 2017. For too long the roadside rescue and recovery sector has been ignored by Government and Sam’s persistence and support of her local MP, Tracey Crouch, is now paying off.
The campaign wants better education for drivers and also for recovery vehicles to have red flashing lights – the same as police and other emergency services.
In particular it appears that 1 in 5 drivers ignore a “red cross” sign in the overhead gantry – especially if they cannot see a reason for the lane closure.
If we got it wrong then we need to put it right. We cannot allow dedicated roadside recovery workers to be put in danger like this. We need to find a safe solution.