'I'd bet everything I own on a smart motorway death in Northampton,' says chair of recovery driver association

The smart motorway is complete around junction 16 and is under construction between junction 14 and 15 (above)
The smart motorway is complete around junction 16 and is under construction between junction 14 and 15 (above)

A death caused by Northampton's smart motorway is inevitable, according to the chair of the association that represents about 3,000 recovery workers.

Shaun Coole, who has been rescuing stranded motorists across Northamptonshire for about 30 years, said he felt compelled to speak out about Northampton's M1 smart motorway scheme as chair of the Road Rescue Recovery Association (RRRA).

He said his experience and that of his fellow recovery drivers on stretches of smart motorways - where the permanent hard shoulder is removed - elsewhere in England lead him to believe Northampton is lined up for a tragedy.

Mr Coole said: "There's a death every few weeks.

"Will that happen in Northampton? Without doubt. I'd bet everything I own in the world on it. It can't not happen.

"You are placing obstacles in the middle of a live lane.

"Deaths will happen. If someone breaks down at night and their alternator goes [so their lights don't work], that's it for them."

Mr Coole said the implementation of smart motorways to increase the capacity of carriageways was opposed strongly by the RRRA, but, he said, the Government chose the cheapest option.

This decision, he said, has made him regularly fear for his safety while rescuing motorists who have broken down near junction 16.

"When I'm on a hard shoulder, there's a rumble strip to the side of me as an alert," Mr Coole said. "I'm in charge of my own destiny, I know I'm safe."

"This has made it 10 times worse.

"I've been doing this 30 years and it's the first time I've ever been scared on the job.

"You take your life in your hands."

Mr Coole said, in an ideal world, smart motorways would work perfectly but drivers' frequent misinterpretation of the electronic signs left too much to chance.

What the (RRRA say is needed is a patrolling 'impact protection vehicle', such as roadworks teams have, with illuminated signs to divert vehicles and keep stranded motorists from danger.

He said: "The standard of driving is too low. People just ignore what's in front of them a lot of the time.

"They pay no attention to the red crosses on smart motorways

"They only have to wander over slightly and they will hit you."