MPs Find Some Deaths May Have Been Prevented
The widow of a man killed on a smart motorway has called for Highways England to face a criminal investigation after MPs ruled their use should be stopped.
A hard hitting parliamentary report has found some of the deaths of the eight people killed on all lane running motorways, which have no hard shoulder, could have been avoided with the use of technology to detect stationary vehicles. A commitment to install such technology was made in 2016.
There had been “gross public policy” failures which were a “damning indictment” of Highway England’s “on-the-hoof approach” to such sections of motorway, the report added.
Claire Mercer’s husband Jason, 44, was one of two people killed on a section of ALR motorway in South Yorkshire.
Claire, of Broom, Rotherham, has instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate bringing a legal case against Highways England calling for the use of smart motorways to be halted.
She has now called for police to investigate whether there are grounds in bringing a case for corporate manslaughter.
Expert Opinion“As part of our investigations we are uncovering more information about smart motorways which supports the view of Claire, and other families who have suffered tragedies on such roads, in that they cost lives.
“This report and its extremely worrying findings only serve to strengthen that position.
“We are continuing to support Claire as we prepare a legal case on her behalf, so that roads can be made safer to drive on. In the meantime we share the concerns of the parliamentary report authors in that the use of smart motorways should be stopped at least until a full and accurate safety review of them is carried out and the results known.” Helen Smith - Senior Associate Solicitor
Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting families affected by road accidents
Jason and 22-year-old Alexandru Murgreanu, from Mansfield, were killed when they were knocked down by a lorry shortly after the pair was involved in a minor collision near junction 34 of the M1 at Meadowhall in South Yorkshire. The pair had pulled over to the roadside as far as they could.
However, the lane was not closed to traffic until six minutes after the collision which happened on 7 June last year.
Last November the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Roadside Rescue and Recovery launched a review of ALR motorways.
In its publication the group found:
A total of 38% of 51,100 breakdowns recorded on stretches of ALR motorway were in live lanes, compared to 20.43% on conventional motorways. This was described as “completely unacceptable” and a “public policy failure”.
Claims from Highways England that spacing of emergency refuges – which vehicles use instead of a hard shoulder – less than 1.5 miles apart has no effect are “unconvincing”.
Highways England does not have enough resources and systems in place to respond to live lane breakdowns quickly enough.
Stopped vehicle detection technology recently trialled on the M25 should have been installed on all stretches of all lane running motorways from the outset and “certainly should have been retrofitted in 2016 after a commitment by Highways England to do so.
An admission that if such technology was in operation some of those eight people killed on ALR carriageways may not have lost their lives amounted to a “gross public policy failure and damning indictment of the agency’s on-the-hoof approach to All Lane Running motorways.”
There is not enough enforcement of stopping drivers travelling in lanes with a red X on overhead signs, indicating the lane is closed.
The report ruled that all lane running motorways should be halted until:
- At least three years of data is available for each stretch of road that shows safety improvements
- The live lane breakdown rate is below the 20.43% rate on traditional motorways
- There is a “marked improvement in the current response time of 17 minutes 43 seconds by Highways England officers to live breakdowns
- Emergency lay-bys are located a maximum of 800 metres apart on all stretches of carriageway
- All stretches have stopped vehicle detection technology installed
- Drivers complying with red X lane closure signs is raised to 98%.
Claire said: “It was only after Jason’s death when I started looking into what smart motorways were the various types that are in operation that I started to understand what they are.
“Ever since then I have been adamant that they are confusing, extremely dangerous and kill. To now hear that some of those deaths, possibly including Jason’s could have been avoided if promises had been kept is absolutely staggering.
“I’m almost lost for words as to how this could have been allowed to happen. Highways England should be made to explain its actions or lack of action and the police should investigate the agency for corporate manslaughter,
“However, this is not about punishing people. It’s about stopping the use of smart motorways before they are more deaths and other families are left trying to pick up the pieces of losing a loved one in such a needless way.”
Claire has launched a crowdfunding campaign to try and raise £20,000 to help fund her legal case. So far she has raised just over £6,500.
For more information visit Claire's CrowdJustice page
England's motorway network has 13 sections of all lane running motorways which don’t have a hard shoulder. These include parts of the M1, M3, M5, M6 and M25.
Last year a total of nine people died on the smart motorway network, including five fatalities in 10 months on the M1 near Sheffield.
Outside the M25, staff who manage the motorway network have no system of automatic alert if a lone vehicle has stopped in a live lane. Instead they rely on Midas (motorway incident detection and automatic signalling), which monitors traffic flow and picks up on slow-moving traffic that could suggest a stationary vehicle, as well as 999 calls and calls from the public, The Sunday Times reported.
An average of 26 drivers break down a day on smart motorways, according to government figures.