Smart motorway upgrade is on its way at last: Accident blackspots on notorious stretches of road are to be made safer, highways bosses announce

Safety improvements are to be made to notorious stretches of smart motorway, road chiefs said yesterday.

Extra emergency laybys, more warning signs and further road markings will be introduced by National Highways.

The agency had commissioned independent studies of a section of the M6 near Birmingham and three stretches of the M1 near Luton, Sheffield and Wakefield. 

Safety improvements are to be made to notorious stretches of smart motorway, road chiefs said. Pictured: The scene of a double fatal crash on the M1

Safety improvements are to be made to notorious stretches of smart motorway, road chiefs said. Pictured: The scene of a double fatal crash on the M1

Jason Mercer, 44, died on the M1 after he pulled over and a lorry crashed into him on a smart motorway

Jason Mercer, 44, died on the M1 after he pulled over and a lorry crashed into him on a smart motorway

These documented 14 fatal crashes since conversion into smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder.

Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died on the M1 after they both pulled over and a lorry crashed into them. 

The lack of a hard shoulder contributed to their deaths, a coroner found.

Engineers will build an extra emergency refuge on the M1 in South Yorkshire and a 'place to stop' on the M6 near Birmingham. 

Extra signs will be added informing drivers about where emergency laybys are, slip roads will be redesigned and a system for spotting broken-down vehicles will be brought in more quickly.

Yesterday's review noted 'a rise in collisions of serious severity' between junctions 10 and 13 on the M1 and that 'fatal injury collisions have increased from one in three years to three in three years' between junctions 32 and 25. 

Campaigners have repeatedly warned that temporarily or permanently removing hard shoulders made smart motorways more dangerous than conventional equivalents.

The lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the death of Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, a coroner found

The lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the death of Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, a coroner found

Mr Mercer's widow Claire said: 'We need the hard shoulder reinstated. Does your car ever break down in a convenient place? Of course not. Without a hard shoulder safety is just not there.' 

A separate report found National Highways, formerly Highways England, might have 'obscured' the impact of removing the hard shoulders with the way it had presented some safety data.

The Office of Rail and Road also found the agency was using a 'complex' method while compiling some data and that simplifying assessments about safety would be 'more transparent'.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who commissioned the watchdog's report, said it contained 'recommendations for improvement that will strengthen our understanding of road safety'.