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A group of MPs is calling for a safety review of smart motorways, like that on the M1 in Hertfordshire.

Smart motorway work's also due to start on the A1M between Stevenage and Welwyn, early next year.

The roads use traffic management systems to reduce congestion if there is a breakdown or crash, with a lit-up red cross highlighting that a lane is closed.

Campaigners argue they are dangerous for both drivers and recovery workers, although Highways bosses insist they're safe.

Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead Mike Penning disagrees and is heading the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Roadside Rescue and Recovery: "I was the Minister that rolled them out. At the time, I looked for the evidence as to whether they were safe or not.

"The 'safety areas' - where drivers can pull into - were originally tested at around 500-600 metres, but now they're up to a mile apart, sometimes more. Clearly there is a problem out there and I don't think they should continue to be rolled out.

He continued: "The pilot schemes were done with much shorter zones and there is no proper evidence showing how many people are ignoring the red crosses. We know the minimum amount of people who are being killed, but we don't have figures for the number of people seriously injured on smart motorways".

St Albans resident and president of the AA, Edmund King, says there are two issues with the current setup: "In the first instance, it can put drivers at risk if they can't see a lay-by to get to. But, also for road workers, such as AA Patrols, they aren't allowed to recover someone from a live lane of the motorway, because frankly it is too dangerous.

"The current situation isn't the safest and isn't the most practical; and we would like to see it changed."

(BELOW: Edmund King [Credit: The AA])

A spokesperson for Highways England spokesperson said: "We welcome the establishment of the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Roadside Rescue and Recovery and have already actively engaged with key members to arrange meetings in the coming weeks.

"Smart motorways are good for drivers; they add extra lanes giving extra space so more people can travel, they use technology which makes journeys more reliable and evidence proves they are as safe as traditional motorways, which are already among the safest roads in the world. Feedback from road users show the majority feel confident driving on a smart motorway, and that they are safer and improve journey times.

“We recognise that as well as being safe, drivers want to feel safe and we have and will continue to make some changes to the design of motorways. This includes making emergency areas more visible (M1, M3 and M5); introducing systems that detect stationary vehicles; and raising awareness of the need to comply with lane closures. For future schemes we will be reducing the maximum space between emergency areas to one mile, where practical. All of this is being done to help road users feel safer."

Highways England continued: "Emergency areas are typically up to 1.5 miles (about every 90 seconds at 60mph) to provide drivers with a safe place to stop if they encounter problems. They are set back from the carriageway to provide greater protection than a hard shoulder.

"We are going to install a small number of extra emergency areas in locations with the highest levels of potential live lane stops A system to automatically detect stationary vehicles is already operational on the M25 between junctions 5 and 7 on the Kent/Surrey border and between junctions 23 and 27 in Hertfordshire/Essex".

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