Lawyers And Claire Mercer Present Transport Expert’s Report To Government And Highways Bosses Calling For Change
In 2012 The Highways Agency, a body created by the Government’s Department for Transport, adopted an approach which specifically reduced safety on smart motorways in order to save costs, a new and significant expert report has revealed.
The report found that the risk of being involved in a live lane breakdown on an all lanes running (ALRs) smart motorway is 216 per cent higher than on a standard motorway, as there is no hard shoulder for drivers’ refuge in the event of a collision or breakdown. In addition, ALRs have the “lowest level of intrinsic safety” when compared to any other form of motorway.
The report says the decision to continue using ALRs, which are associated with the “highest rate of people killed or seriously injured, is not justified.” A lack of public consultation around the introduction of the roads has also been identified.
Lawyers helping Claire Mercer commission smart motorways report
The report was commissioned by legal experts at Irwin Mitchell representing Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason died on a stretch of the M1 classed as ALR. The report “lays bare more shocking details” about safety standards on hundreds of miles of the UK’s road network, according to Claire’s legal team at Irwin Mitchell.
Claire, of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, said that the report confirmed what she knew: “Smart motorways are death traps. I want to prevent any future deaths on smart motorways.”
The report was prepared by transport planning specialists, Royal HaskoningDHV over a year of thorough research.
Claire Mercer and legal team call on government to stop all-lane running smart motorways
Claire and her legal team at Irwin Mitchell have issued the report to the Government, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, and senior leaders at Highways England. Irwin Mitchell and Claire have called for the use of ALRs to be stopped. If not, Highways England and the Department for Transport could face legal action.
Expert Opinion“We continue to investigate and uncover concerning evidence around the nation’s smart motorway network and its safety.
“This report, which has taken more than a year of thorough research, comprehensively pulls this evidence together. Leaving no stone unturned, the report lays bare more shocking details about how a cost-driven, value engineering approach is compromising the public’s safety.
“The report follows on from a number of concerns raised by key figures, including a police commissioner and coroners, about the safety of smart motorways.
“All of this just adds to the growing groundswell of opinion that more needs to be done to improve safety on smart motorways - which operate on some of the country’s major routes.
“We call on the Department for Transport, Grant Shapps, and Highways England to acknowledge that the development and roll out of ALRs was flawed. They must act in accordance with their legal duties and take action to improve safety, or face formal legal action.
“Claire, and other families whose lives have been tragically impacted by crashes on smart motorways, are determined to bring about change for the better. We’ll continue to support them in their campaign. If there are witnesses to similar accidents on smart motorways, we encourage them to get in touch with us to support the campaign.” Helen Smith - Senior Associate Solicitor
Claire and Jason Mercer: our client's story
Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgreanu, 22, of Mansfield, were killed on 7 June, 2019 when they were knocked down by a lorry shortly after a minor collision on an ALR. The incident took place near junction 34 of the M1 near Meadowhall in South Yorkshire. The couple had pulled over to the roadside as far as possible – and yet the lane was not closed to traffic until after the second, fatal collision.
At an inquest into their deaths, coroner David Urpeth said the roads, which have no hard shoulder, carried an "an ongoing risk of future deaths". Jason was found not to have been at fault and was placed at risk of serious injury or death when he broke down on an ALR smart motorway.
The coroner heard evidence from representatives of the Highways Agency. The inquest was told that Jason’s and Alexandru’s death may have been avoided had there been a hard shoulder.
Independent smart motorways report identifies safety issues
Sarah Simpson of Royal HaskoningDHV, a transport planner with 20 years of experience and author of the report stated:
- That she was in “no doubt that the ALR smart motorway has the lowest level of intrinsic safety” of all motorways. This is because “best practice” in road safety, known as Safe Systems – which focuses on eliminating the most deadly hazards – wasn’t properly adopted or considered when implementing smart motorways.
- That people are more likely to be involved in live lane incidents on ALR smart motorways and that when this happens “people are more likely to die or be seriously injured”.
- As a result of Highways England not fully implementing the Safe Systems approach to road safety, the ALR motorways safety is compromised.
- Highways England adopted the Safe Systems approach in 2015 – seven years after the Transport Select Committee identified it as “warranting proper exploration for adoption”.
- The public expected meaningful consultation on smart motorways as they were a “material change to the transport network”. Local highway authorities frequently consult on new bus stops, and Highways England consults on major changes, such as the A303 at Stonehenge, but failed to do so in respect of smart motorways.
- Aside from the M42 pilot and despite the need for strong public engagement being identified by the guidance to designers of smart motorways as early as 2008, this has not happened. The first public or stakeholder engagement on smart motorways was in 2019, 10 years after the first permanent smart motorways opened.
- That she was “struck by the paucity of data and analysis underpinning the decision”, in particular that the evidence provided by the 2020 Smart Motorways Stocktake was partial and failed to allow direct comparison of the various types of smart motorway.
- As a result, “the decision to continue with the type of smart motorway which is associated with the highest rate of people killed or seriously injured is not justified.”
There are proposed changes to the spacing of emergency laybys and the development of technology to identify stranded vehicles. Yet the report found that ALRs would still have fewer safety measures in place than other countries which have ALR and which have adopted Smart Systems, such as Australia.
Claire crowdfunds to stop use of 'death traps' smart motorways
Claire is running a crowdfunding appeal at www.crowdjustice.com/case/smart-motorway-jr/ as part of her campaign and to support her legal challenge.
Claire, 44, said: “Everyone knows how close Jason and I were, we did everything together, he was incredibly loving and supportive. Ever since his death I’ve been determined to find out more about smart motorways and campaign for them to be scrapped.
“More people in positions of authority are starting to voice concerns about these roads. Now, this report vindicates what I and other campaigners have been saying for some time.
“There were so many mixed emotions reading the report. There was upset and anger over what happened to Jason and others, but it also confirmed what I knew – smart motorways are death traps.
“It’s about time the Government and Highways England really took notice of all the evidence and public opinion. How many more people have to suffer the heartbreak of losing a loved one or suffer life-changing injuries before action is taken?
Sarah Simpson added: “Looking forward, the changes in travel habits as a result of Covid-19 and the insights of the report highlight an opportunity to revisit the role of smart motorways in England - as well as their safety.”
Lawyers support family of Nargis Begum following her death on M1 smart motorway
Irwin Mitchell also represents the family of Nargis Begum in a separate civil case involving Highways England.
Nargis, of Darnall, Sheffield, a mum-of-five and grandmother-of-nine, died in September 2018 on the M1. The Nissan Qashqai she was a passenger in broke down close to Woodall services near Sheffield. Nargis, 62, and her husband Mohammed Bashir, 67, who had been driving, had exited their vehicle. They were waiting for help to arrive when another vehicle collided with their Nissan, which then ploughed into Nargis.
The stranded Nissan had had its hazard lights on for 17 minutes before the collision. The lane had not been closed to traffic.
Earlier this year, Coroner Nicola Mundy referred Nargis’s death to the Crown Prosecution Service asking it to investigate whether there were grounds for Highways England to face corporate manslaughter charges.
About Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson is an Associate Group Director for Transport Planning at Peterborough-based engineering and environmental planning firm Royal HaskoningDHV.
She has 19 years’ experience in transport planning, the majority of which has been providing technical advice relating to new transport infrastructure. She has worked on major infrastructure projects in relation to English motorways, trunk roads and principal roads in Yorkshire, Norfolk, and Greater London.
A Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, she has also provided transport planning strategy, advice and peer review for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.
Smart Motorways Background
In January 2020, a hard hitting parliamentary report found some of the deaths of the eight people killed on ALR motorways 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 from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Roadside Rescue and Recovery said.
In its publication the group found:
- A total of 38 per cent of 51,100 breakdowns recorded on stretches of ALR motorway were in live lanes, compared to 20 per cent on conventional motorways. This was described as “completely unacceptable” and a “public policy failure”.
- The APPG found claims from Highways England to be “unconvincing” that spacing of emergency refuges – which vehicles use instead of a hard shoulder – less than 1.5 miles apart had no effect on safety.
- Highways England cannot respond to live lane breakdowns quickly enough due to lack of resources and inadequate systems.
- 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”.
- That if such technology was in operation, some of those eight people killed on ALR carriageways may not have lost their lives – which amounted to a “gross public policy failure and damning indictment of the agency’s on-the-hoof approach to All Lane Running motorways.”
- There was insufficient enforcement to stop 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 per cent rate on traditional motorways.
- There is a “marked improvement” in the current response time to live breakdowns of 17 minutes 43 seconds by Highways England officers.
- Emergency laybys 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 was raised to 98 per cent.