Road chiefs reject red lights for motorway rescue vehicles

Roadside recovery staff hopes of having red lights on vans to warn motorists of danger have been opposed by Highways EnglandByChristopher Hope, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT andSteve Bird13 March 2021 • 4:09pm

Grant Shapps has written to a Conservative MP about the use of red flashing lamps 
Grant Shapps has written to a Conservative MP about the use of red flashing lamps  CREDIT: Barcroft Media

The Government company behind smart motorways has objected to attempts by Grant Shapps to allow roadside recovery vehicles to use red flashing lights on their vehicles.

The Transport Secretary privately backs allowing breakdown vehicles to display red lights, rather than the conventional orange ones, as a deterrent to speeding vehicles to keep recovery staff safe.

MPs and campaigners think they could be of significant value on new smart motorways where the hard shoulder has been scrapped.

The move comes after Mr Shapps received an urgent “one year on” report on the safety of smart motorways amid escalating concern about the numbers of deaths and serious injuries on them.

At the moment, recovery operators are only permitted to fit their vehicles with and use amber warning beacons.

In June last year, Mr Shapps ordered a departmental consultation into whether they could start to use red lights amid calls that it would offer workers greater protection.

But in a letter, dated March 11, Mr Shapps told former Tory minister, Sir Mike Penning MP, that while a consultation found “general support from the recovery industry for extending the use of red flashing lights… Highways England (HE) expressed concern that use of red flashing lights on roadside recovery vehicles could lead to a dilution of their effectiveness and hence increased risk to HE Traffic Officers in their role while controlling live flows.”

He added: “The Police would only support a change where a positive road safety benefit could be demonstrated.”

Mr Shapps said that the Government’s review had found “little evidence that red flashing lamps would help with conspicuity of roadside operators and their vehicles” and so recommended further trials.

Mr Shapps has now ordered that the Government’s transport scientists carry out “off-road trials to understand the likely impact of allowing their use” as a priority.

Last night Sir Mike, who chairs the all party Parliamentary group on Roadside Rescue and Recovery,  told The Sunday Telegraph: “Very often those on the coal face are best placed to say what they need to keep them safe.  

“And the brave men and women that rescue and recover us when we are stranded by the roadside have been calling for this for many years. The Secretary of State has my full support in driving this forward.”

Andy Lambert, chairman of the Rescue Industry Support Charity, added: “We see the devastating consequences of when our people are hurt, or worse killed.  

“Everyone has the right to know that everything that can be done to keep people safe is being done. I implore all concerned to push this change through.”

Samantha Cockerill, who set up the Campaign for Safer Roadside Rescue and Recovery after her partner, Steve Godbold, a vehicle recovery worker, was killed by a lorry which strayed on the hard shoulder of the M25, said: “Red means danger, and is consequently taken seriously by motorists who then slow down.

“Why Highways England think their staff are more important than other people working on motorways is a mystery. Every life is worth the same.” 

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