A Burnley mum says the government needs to get rid of smart motorways after an investigation found that technology aimed at keeping drivers safe on them frequently stops working.

Sally Jacks said she “thought she was going to die” after a scary incident on the M6 last year.

In a video, which has amassed more than 28,000 views on TikTok,  she explained that her windscreen wipers stopped working in heavy rain.

At the time, she was traveling down the stretch of a smart motorway, which doesn’t have a hard shoulder for cars to use in an emergency and instead has refuge bays around a kilometer apart.

Sally, a shopping channel presenter, said she couldn’t see anything in the battering rain and was forced to journey along the motorway until finding an emergency refuge area.

At the time she said: “I truly thought I was going to die, that is the closest I have ever been to feeling like that in my life and it was horrific.”

A year on from the incident, Sally said she is still apprehensive about travelling on stretches of smart motorways.

She said: “I am completely anxious [about driving on smart motorways]. I kind of have to block it out [of my mind] because I know I have to make the commute.

“It does worry me because they are such a clueless and ridiculous idea. It feels like they were thought up by somebody in an office who doesn’t do enough motorway driving for themselves.”

There have been hundreds of incidents when safety equipment was out of action on smart motorways in recent years, figures obtained by BBC Panorama show.

AA president Edmund King said these failures are “every driver’s worst nightmare” as he called for hard shoulders to be reinstated on all smart motorways where they have been removed.

Sally said she has spoken with Edmund and agrees with the calls to scrap them.

She said: “I have spoken to the head of the AA and he is absolutely against them.

”It’s a nightmare because if anything were to happen on a stretch of the smart motorway there could be a bad crash – there have been deaths on them.”

“You are relying on technology and not other people. If that technology goes down [it could end badly].”

“The hard shoulder is dangerous too but at least you’re in an area [that’s specifically for] broken down cars.”

Sally is calling for all smart motorways to be scrapped, regardless of the costs this may incur.

She said: “I understand they invested a lot of money into installing them and it will cost more to replace them – but you cannot put a price on a life.

“Just look at the deaths and havoc they cause – they need to get rid of smart motorways.”

Some 193 miles of all-lane running (ALR) smart motorways were built in England to increase capacity at a lower cost than widening roads.

There have been long-standing safety concerns after fatal incidents in which vehicles stopped in live lanes were hit from behind.

Camera and radar systems have been deployed in an attempt to spot stranded vehicles, but figures obtained by Panorama in response to a Freedom of Information request show there were 397 incidents of power outages on smart motorways between June 2022 and February 2024.

Examples of safety technology being cut off for several days include:

  • No signs, signals, camera or radar at Junction 18 on the M6 for five days in July 2023;
  • No signs, signals or CCTV at Junction 22 on the M62 for five days in September 2023;
  • No signs, signals, sensors or CCTV at Junction 6 on the M5 for three days in December 2023.

The longest power failure was at Junction 14 on the M4, when there were no signals or sensors for 11 days.

There were 174 power outages in the six months to February 2024 – the most recent period covered by the figures – which is equivalent to nearly one every day.

Edmund said: “We have been exposing the dangers of smart motorways for more than a decade and have made representations to more than a dozen transport secretaries and ministers.

“Four-fifths of our members tell us that they want smart motorways scrapped and the hard shoulder reinstated.

“Now is the time to stop this failed experiment. Efforts have been made to retrofit safety at great expense, but you can never fully correct such a flawed design.

“We are calling on all political parties to abolish smart motorways.

“The Panorama investigation questions what happens when the technology fails, which is every driver’s worst nightmare.”

National Highways operational control director Andrew Page-Dove said: “Safety is our highest priority and our motorways are statistically some of the safest in the world, but there is still work to do as every death is a tragedy and every serious injury a life changed.

“We need to help everyone feel confident when using smart motorways.

“They were introduced to provide extra capacity on some of our busiest and most congested sections of motorway, and the latest data shows that, overall, in terms of serious or fatal casualties, smart motorways are our safest roads.

“We are taking action to close the gap between how drivers feel and what the safety statistics show by increasing the number of emergency areas, delivering education campaigns, and improving the resilience of our operational technology systems.”

A National Highways report published in December last year revealed that smart motorways without a hard shoulder were three times more dangerous to break down on than those with an emergency lane.

The number of people killed or seriously injured after a stopped vehicle was hit by a moving vehicle was 0.21 per 100 million vehicle miles travelled on ALR smart motorways between 2017 and 2021.

That compares with 0.07 on controlled smart motorways, which have variable speed limits but retain a hard shoulder and 0.10 on conventional motorways.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled all future planned smart motorway projects in April last year, citing financial pressures and a lack of public confidence in the roads.

Have you had an incident on a smart motorway? Send your stories to: sarah.mcgee@newsquest.co.uk.