Star comment: Right to hit pause button on smart motorways

The hazards of smart motorways have either been denied or downplayed.

Smart motorways work and are safe – that is, until they don’t work, and are unsafe.

Tragic experience has shown that the switch from safe to potentially deadly is but a small step involving one or two entirely predictable changing circumstances. Like a car full of passengers breaking down in a live lane.

For many months the hazards of smart motorways – motorways where the hard shoulder is used as a live traffic lane to help increase flow and reduce jams – have either been denied or downplayed despite the anguished stories of those who have lost loved ones.

Campaigners now have a partial victory, as the Department for Transport is pausing their rollout while more data is collated to assess whether or not they are safe. So this is not an end to smart motorways, but a time to consider options. And the ongoing M6 works will continue.

Even without studying any data, it is intuitively obvious that a highways system in which a broken down vehicle cannot escape being on a live lane carrying fast-moving traffic brings with it certain dangers.

Sadly we know from some dreadful incidents that even being stationary on the hard shoulder, a non-traffic refuge, carries risk.

Increasing the number of emergency refuges on smart motorways will go some way to making the concept more acceptable, but an ailing vehicle may still not be able to limp to their comparative safety.

Modern vehicles are reliable and smart motorways take advantage of that fact.

But what can also be relied on is that things will always go wrong. This pause must be used to assess the dangers objectively and act if necessary.

The issues surrounding Boris Johnson and Prince Andrew are, of course, very different.

But, regardless of a question of right or wrong, guilt or innocence, there are common themes that should be considered.

Both men are in a position of great status and power. Both have the machine of state behind them and are surrounded by a team who are at their beck and call.

Both would never have believed they could be in a situation where their alleged actions are being scrutinised in public, or that their position of power and authority could be questioned and threatened.

Status can clearly breed arrogance and a feeling of invincibility. But in a democracy nobody is above the rules that govern the rest of us.

Britain should pride itself on being in a society that is fair in its judgement to all, regardless of rank, wealth or power.

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