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Undercover probe finds one in 10 smart motorway cameras not working

Smart motorways are plagued with shocking technical failures that put lives at risk, it can be revealed today.

A Daily Mail reporter spent six weeks under cover at a control room and discovered alarming problems with the deadly roads where the hard shoulder is converted to a live lane. More than one in ten safety cameras were either broken, misted up or facing the wrong way.

In one terrifying incident a worker said: ‘We’ve got no signals, you’re all going to die.

Whichever God you believe in, start praying now.’

Almost half the cameras on one of the busiest stretches of the M25 were failing on September 17, the day of our audit. Control room staff were unable to check reports of broken-down vehicles, meaning motorists faced being stranded in high-speed traffic. The Department for Transport last night ordered an inquiry into our staggering revelations, which will pile pressure on ministers to reinstate the hard shoulder.

Earlier this year this newspaper revealed that 53 people had died on smart motorways in the four years to 2019.

Eighteen of the fatalities were blamed at least partly on the way the roads operate.

The revelations come just as National Highways – the successor to Highways England – is in the process of rolling out a further 300 miles of smart motorway by 2025.

MPs and grieving families praised the Mail for the in-depth exposé into the killer roads and called for immediate action.

Niaz Shazad, son of Nargis Begum who died after being hit by a lorry on the M1, said: ‘With people including my own mother being killed on these roads, there needs to be accountability.’

Sally Jacobs, whose husband was killed on a section of the M1 with no hard shoulder: ‘It’s no longer manslaughter it’s murder. They know they’re killing their citizens. What are they waiting for? A coachload of children to be killed or something horrific like that?’

Mike Penning, who as roads minister authorised the expansion of the programme in 2010 after a trial on the M42 near Birmingham, called on the Government to act.

Sir Mike said: ‘The Mail has found real evidence that the current system isn’t working and it’s just too dangerous.’ When he gave the go-head to the expansion of the scheme, there were safe stopping points for motorists every 600 metres – but now some refuges are 2.5 miles apart.

Jim McMahon, Labour’s transport spokesman, called for an urgent independent inquiry into the safety of the roads. He added: ‘What the Mail has uncovered will strike a lot of people with fear. National Highways has failed in its duty to keep people safe by putting lives at risk needlessly.

‘The fact they are aware of this and they continue to roll out smart motorways, they continue to refuse to reinstate the hard shoulder, is I’m afraid unforgivable.

‘The main thing for me is just how easy this is to put right pending a review – press a button and put the red X on the hard shoulder. It’s that easy and it can be done today.’

Sir Edmund King, AA president, said: ‘These findings will worry the public and confirm many of the fears the AA has raised over several years regarding the safety of smart motorways.

‘There should be an immediate inquiry to get to the root cause of these issues.’

From its regional operation centres, National Highways is tasked with keeping motorists safe by setting lane closures and speed limits, deploying traffic officers to accidents and fielding emergency calls from the public.

The Mail reporter was working under cover at the South Mimms ROC in Hertfordshire, responsible for sections of smart motorways on the M25, M1 and M4. They were told operators could not stop traffic based solely on the testimony of broken-down drivers. Staff are forbidden from closing a lane with red X signs above the gantries until the incident is confirmed by one of four ‘trusted sources’ – highways staff, police officers, contractors or CCTV cameras.

The view of a faulty National Highways CCTV camera on a section of the M62 where there is no hard shoulder

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