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Why Highway England’s 5m ‘Go Left’ Campaign Is A Big Mistake?

Image: Highways England

As death tolls on smart motorways reach a record high, Highways England has launched a £5 million ‘Go Left’ campaign to make sure every motorist understands these ‘life-saving’ instructions.

If your car breaks down on a motorway and you can’t turn off at an exit, Highways England advises that you indicate left on to the nearest hard shoulder, emergency refuge area or motorway service station.

In their ‘biggest campaign ever, the Highways England have pulled out all the stops to promote safety on Britain’s smart motorways. This has included enlisting the help of the 1980s synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys. Using an adapted version of the Pet Shop Boys’ hit song Go West, the song urges motorists to Go Left to find a layby or verge in the event of an accident or vehicle fault. The advert features two flies squashed against the windscreen, singing the song.

Not The First Rodeo For Highways England

Transport secretary Grant Shapps vowed to improve public confidence in smart motorways, which don’t have a hard shoulder. He claimed that the £5 million investment would educate and inform motorists on how to use smart motorways safely. Though this is the biggest, it is not the first time that significant investment has been poured into explaining to the public how to use smart motorways. Between 2014 and 2020, £4.5 million was invested in communication to the public.

South Yorkshire police commissioner Alan Billings called the investment ‘astonishing’. He has personally stated that the hard shoulder should be reinstated on particular stretches of smart motorways where several fatalities have taken place.

How Likely Is A Motorway Breakdown

There were 207,500 breakdowns on motorways in 2019. In the 12 months from June 2019, approximately 40,000 breakdowns were caused by tyre problems, while 6,000 were because vehicles ran out of fuel.

Making Light Of A Serious Problem

Billings believes that a focus on ‘education’ is an oversimplification of a serious issue. There are inherent dangers due to the structure of these roads that needs to be addressed. Trusting that information will prevent fatalities could be an expensive and dangerous mistake.

Over 350 miles of the motorway is ‘smart’, with scrutiny coming in recent years after the tragic deaths of motorists whose cars have broken down in live vehicle lanes. Spokespeople from the Go Left campaign have said that it should be practical for cars experiencing problems to reach an emergency area on a motorway without a hard shoulder.

Commentators made the point that the advice was ‘all well and good until the engine cuts out’. As mentioned above, the rates of tyre failure and running out of fuel are high. Several tragic deaths have occurred while motorists experiencing problems are attempting to access help or communicate with other drivers.

The Advert Has Not Had The Desired Effect

Feedback from the advert has not been favourable. Claire Mercer, whose husband was killed on a smart section of the M1 has called the advert ‘foul’. Many have criticised the campaign’s light-hearted approach, considering the serious nature of the subject matter.

Claire Mercer said the squashed flies on the windscreen was a ‘silly, bad joke about a serious and hurtful subject’. She felt that the characters were presenting a crude display of the fate of her’s and others loved ones. Claire believes that Highway England is responsible for her husband’s death, who had left his vehicle to share details of a minor collision when he was hit.

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