PRWeek UK Awards Winners 2020: Public Affairs

This award goes to 'Smart motorways' by The AA.

PRWeek UK Awards Winners 2020: Public Affairs

The motoring association wanted to address the danger posed by the Government’s rollout of smart motorways, in which the hard shoulder is converted into a traffic lane with Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs) every 500m.

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However, during the rollout the Government decided to decrease the number of ERAs to one every 1.5 miles (2.4km), despite indications from coroners that a lack of safe stopping areas during breakdowns on motorways had contributed to deaths.

The AA set itself the objective of convincing the Government to double the number of ERAs to one every 0.75 miles (1.2km), and to retrofit them where practical on existing smart motorways.

The motoring group set out to create a hard-hitting, evidence-based media campaign, alongside a concerted push to engage transport secretary Grant Shapps, opposition politicians and the Highways Agency.

It worked to expose the failings of smart motorways through a combination of research, surveys of motorists, FOI requests and case studies with the families of accident victims to put pressure on the transport secretary to change the design.

Its aim was to feed new stories on smart motorways every two weeks to stoke public opinion in favour of its cause.

Highlights included a letter in The Times newspaper from four former cross-bench transport ministers calling for more ERAs and research that exposed a deadly ‘hotspot’ on the M1, while an FOI request revealed that it took the authorities 17 minutes to spot a broken-down vehicle in a driving lane.

But just as the campaign was gaining traction, a general election was called, bringing it to a temporary halt.

Once the wheels of government began turning again, the AA convinced the BBC's Panorama series to make the documentary ‘Britain’s Killer Motorways?’

This proved a game-changing development, which led to the AA convincing the transport secretary to agree in principle to increasing the frequency of ERAs.

Judge's comment

Really positive lobbying and a strong result that will help save lives.

Highly commended

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