Highways England threatened with legal action over smart motorways


Highways England has been threatened with legal action over the continued use of smart motorways.Irwin Mitchell solicitors say all lane running motorways, where the hard shoulder has been replaced with a running lane, should be halted because of concerns over safety.It comes after the law firm commissioned a report by transport planning specialists, Royal HaskoningDHV who found all lane running motorways had the “lowest level of intrinsic safety” when compared to any other form of motorway.Smart motorways have been constructed on the M20 in Kent, the M25, the M23 in Sussex, the M27 in Hampshire, M3 through Hampshire and Surrey and M4 in Berkshire to increase congestion.

Highways England have always argued they are generally as safe or safer than conventional motorways.The calls for smart motorways to be scrapped are echoed by Claire Mercer, who is represented by Irwin Mitchell. 

Jason Mercer was killed on the M1 in 2019

Her husband Jason died on a smart motorway on the M1 in 2019 and a coroner said the roads, which have no hard shoulder, carried "an ongoing risk of future deaths"The author of the report, Sarah Simpson who has 20 years of experience, found...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”.

  • A procedure known as ’Safe Systems; to eliminate deadly hazards wasn’t properly adopted

  • There was a lack of public consultation on smart motorways.

  • Sarah Simpson concluded "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.”

A smart motorway emergency refuge area Credit: Highways England/PA

Helen Smith, Associate Solicitor with Irwin Mitchell said, "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."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."

A smart motorway sign on the M23 in Sussex Credit: ITV Meridian

Highways England 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."Transport Secretary Grant Schapps, previously told Parliament he wanted smart motorways to be the ’safest roads in Britain’ as he asked for an independent review into casualty data.In 2020, Mr Schapps produced an 18-point improvement plan for Highways England to strengthen safety following a stock take of smart motorways.Measures included reducing the gaps between emergency refuge areas and introducing technology to detect broken down vehicles more quickly.We won’t find out progress until the summer.