Operator gives damning verdict on traffic alert system in email
27th October 2021

Smart motorway tech rollout is ‘reckless’: Operator gives damning verdict on traffic alert system in email warning to hundreds of his colleagues

  • National Highways staff have accused bosses of rolling out flawed technology  
  • Operator warned ‘only a matter of time until someone is seriously hurt or killed’ 
  • In the email, seen by the Daily Mail, he complained of ‘unusable CCTV’ cameras
  • Shockingly, there were 53 deaths on smart motorways in the four years to 2019 

Terrified National Highways staff have accused bosses of ‘recklessly and negligently’ rolling out flawed technology that is putting lives at risk, the Daily Mail can reveal.

In a scathing email to hundreds of staff, an operator warned it is ‘only a matter of time until someone is seriously hurt or killed as a direct result’ of the chaotic system.

National Highways has introduced a new multi-million-pound programme called Charm in several of its regional control centres.

But the operator warned the technology is so riddled with problems that it is like ‘being forced to do our job blindfolded with both arms tied behind our back’. 

In the blistering email, seen by the Mail, he complained of ‘unusable CCTV’ cameras. He said they have poor image quality, frequently freeze, and react slowly when operators try to find out what is happening.

Terrified National Highways staff have accused bosses of ‘recklessly and negligently’ rolling out flawed technology that is putting lives at risk, the Daily Mail can reveal. A couple (pictured) have revealed their grandchild is still traumatised after their car broke down and crashed on one of the most lethal stretches of smart motorway.

In another accident, a former male model (pictured) who suffered devastating injuries when his motorbike lost power on a smart motorway wants the ‘murderous’ roads to be axed. Jack Gallowtree had to have emergency surgery to rebuild his leg and was told it would be amputated if his body rejected a skin graft from his arm.

In a scathing email to hundreds of staff, an operator warned it is ‘only a matter of time until someone is seriously hurt or killed as a direct result’ of the chaotic system. In the blistering email, seen by the Mail, he complained of ‘unusable CCTV’ cameras.

He also criticised the Dynac system – used to close lanes, set speed limits and warn motorists of breakdowns – for being ‘painfully slow’, further delaying measures to protect drivers.

In the email, titled ‘Something needs to be done’, sent to all staff and managers in his West Midlands region, he wrote: ‘Over the years we have complained and complained about the poor state of technology and yet nothing gets done.

‘There needs to be dramatic change in the way Highways manages its technology instead of the passive “let’s wait until it sets on fire or someone dies” approach we adopt now.’

He added he has ‘never seen [staff] morale as low or stress levels as high’. The operator monitors a stretch of smart motorway on the M6 near Birmingham, where eight-year-old Dev Naran was killed on a hard shoulder running as a live lane.

A recent undercover investigation by the Mail exposed a litany of failures at the heart of the roads agency tasked with keeping the public safe. We revealed that one in ten cameras was broken, misted-up or facing the wrong way during an audit on September 17.

Faulty, outdated computer hardware dating back to 2004 was in use and software went down several times in the six weeks that an undercover reporter spent working at one of six control centres. Boris Johnson ordered a ‘thorough’ investigation into the Mail’s revelations but the Department for Transport has refused to share the initial findings.

There were 53 deaths on smart motorways in the four years to 2019 – at least 18 blamed to some degree on the roads.

Last night, MPs and relatives of victims killed on the ‘death-trap’ roads branded the revelations ‘stomach churning’ and called for the immediate reinstatement of the hard shoulder.

Claire Mercer, who founded campaign group Smart Motorways Kill after her husband Jason, 44, died on a section of the M1 with no hard shoulder, accused National Highways of refusing to ‘put hands up and admit they’ve made a multi-billion pound mistake with taxpayers’ money and taxpayers’ lives’.

Labour transport spokesman Jim McMahon said: ‘Ministers must listen to the alarms being repeatedly sounded by insiders and step in before more families are devastated as a result of their inaction.’

The M3 smart motorway near Camberley in Surrey. The motorways have no hard shoulder for emergencies, and use technology to close off lanes

A report on smart motorways by the Commons transport committee is expected within weeks. National Highways has been working on Charm – the Common Highways Agency Rijkswaterstaat Model – with the Dutch road authority for about a decade.

It is intended to help control room operators, who make decisions based on what they can see on camera to get drivers to safety.

National Highways boss Nick Harris said: ‘We are determined to do all we can to help drivers feel safe and be safer on all our roads which is why we have invested in modern traffic management technology to replace a system that was coming to the end of its natural lifespan…

‘We care deeply about the welfare of our staff and are working urgently to find solutions to each of the issues raised.’

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘Road safety is our top priority and we take these reports very seriously. We expect National Highways to take appropriate actions where there are issues to address.’

Austrian firm Kapsch TrafficCom, which makes the Dynac system, said it does not comment on client projects due to confidentiality.

‘Our grandson is still traumatised by crash’

A couple have revealed their grandchild is still traumatised after their car broke down and crashed on one of the most lethal stretches of smart motorway.

Peter and Marilyn Foyle and their grandchildren Harry and Georgina, now 14 and 15, were stranded for 90 minutes next to high-speed traffic after the car’s brakes failed on the M25.

Mr Foyle had to crash into the back of a truck to stop the car. He said Harry was ‘deeply affected’ by the crash two years ago and is still ‘traumatised’ and ‘twitchy’. Following the terrifying ordeal, Mr Foyle called for immediate reinstatement of the hard shoulder.

The architectural designer, 72, was driving his family to the Norfolk Broads for a holiday when their Chrysler Cruiser’s brakes failed. ‘I was panicking, thinking what the hell can I do here, there’s no time to think about it,’ he said.

Mr Foyle put his hazard lights on and moved across into the inside lane, formerly the hard shoulder, before hitting the truck.

Because there was no hard shoulder and no emergency bay nearby, they could not move the vehicles out of the live lane. The family waited behind the barrier for 90 minutes for National Highways to arrive.

‘We saw countless cars swerving to avoid the collision, there were lots of near misses,’ Mr Foyle said. Retired childminder Mrs Foyle, 68, added: ‘I call them dumb motorways. We want them scrapped.’

Peter and Marilyn Foyle and their grandchildren Harry and Georgina, now 14 and 15, were stranded for 90 minutes next to high-speed traffic after the car’s brakes failed (Pictured) on the M25

‘M25 nightmare ruined my leg’

A former male model who suffered devastating injuries when his motorbike lost power on a smart motorway wants the ‘murderous’ roads to be axed.

Jack Gallowtree had to have emergency surgery to rebuild his leg and was told it would be amputated if his body rejected a skin graft from his arm.

The tattoo artist, 33, now uses a walking stick, cannot bend his knee and suffers traumatic flashbacks of the accident. He was travelling on the M6 in April when his motorbike suddenly began losing power.

He attempted to move across the motorway, but the hard shoulder had been converted into a live lane and had several lorries travelling down it.

The tattooist tried to cut in front of the HGVs to get across to the side of the carriageway but, as he reached the side of the road at 60mph, one of his wheels left the tarmac and he was hurled past the barrier. His leg bent the wrong way, tearing a large chunk of flesh from it and shattering his knee cap.

Mr Gallowtree, from Wolverhampton, said if he had been flung to the right he would have been ‘flattened’ by the lorries.

He claims if there had been a hard shoulder, he would have been able to stop safely.

 

Jack Gallowtree (Pictured)  had to have emergency surgery to rebuild his leg and was told it would be amputated if his body rejected a skin graft from his arm

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