Lawyers call for Highways England to halt use of smart motorways as report claims they 'reduce safety to cut costs'

The installment of smart motorways reduced safety in order to cut costs, an independent report has claimed.

A smart motorway, which opens the hard shoulder as a live lane with refuge points for motorists who have broken down

Motorists are 216 per cent more likely to be involved in a breakdown on an open motorway lane on stretches adopting the “all lanes running” (ALR) approach, brought in by Highways England in 2012, according to the report.

The document was commissioned by lawyers Irwin Mitchell alongside Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason Mercer died after being hit by a lorry while he was pulled over onto a live lane on a smart motorway stretch of the M1 near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, in June 2019.

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Another motorist, Alexandru Murgeanu, was also killed in the collision for which a lorry driver was convicted for causing death by careless driving, although a coroner ruled in January that their deaths may have been avoided had the hard shoulder not been open to traffic.

Jason Mercer was killed after pulling over onto a live lane on a stretch of smart motorway on the M1 near Rotherham in June 2019

Irwin Mitchell, along with Ms Mercer, have now called for the Government, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and senior leaders at Highways England, to halt the use of ALRs or face “potential legal action”.

Helen Smith, the specialist public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Ms Mercer, said there was a “growing groundswell” of concerns surrounding the safety of opening the hard shoulder to traffic.

Ms Smith said: “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.

Sarah Simpson of Royal HaskoningDHV, a transport planner with 20 years of experience and author of the report, said her findings were that ALR motorways “undoubtedly” had the lowest level of intrinsic safety” of all motorways.

Claire Mercer pictured outside Sheffield Town Hall in January after an inquest into Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu's death

In her report, she likened the approach Highways England had taken in installing smart motorways to “value engineering”, which she said “compromised safety in order to secure cost savings”, and added that until changes were made, motorists would continue to be at risk of death or serious injury.

“As a result, ALR presents a controlled environment by design, which can give people the impression they are safe, even when they are not,” she said.

Highways England said it was reviewing Ms Simpson’s report.

A spokesman for the authority, which operates all motorways and major highways in England and Wales on behalf of the Department for Transport, said: “Every road death is a tragic loss of life and we are determined to reduce the number of fatal incidents, and injuries, on our roads.

“The Government’s evidence stocktake of the safety of smart motorways analysed a wealth of data and found that in most ways they are as safe as, or safer than, conventional motorways.

"We are committed to delivering the stocktake actions to further raise the bar on smart motorway safety. We are reviewing the Royal HaskoningDHV report.”

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