Smart motorways: Roads without a hard shoulder linked to more accidents and fatalities

Smart motorways without a hard shoulder are associated with higher rates of fatalities and serious injuries, an independent report has found. The report, commissioned by lawyers for Claire Mercer whose husband Jason Mercer was killed in accident on a stretch of the M1 without a hard shoulder, found that where all lanes were open to traffic there was a 216% increased chance of being involved in a live lane breakdown. According to the RAC: “A smart motorway is a section of a motorway that uses traffic management methods to increase capacity and reduce congestion in particularly busy areas.”

One type of smart motorway known as an “all-lane running” scheme permanently removes the hard shoulder and converts it into a running lane for traffic.

Image: Jason Mercer, 44, died following a collision on the M1. Pic: South Yorkshire Police @syptweet

On these types of motorway, lane one (formerly the hard shoulder) is only closed to traffic if there is an accident.

The author of the report Sarah Simpson, a transport specialist at engineering consultancy firm Royal Haskoning DHV, told Sky News evidence suggests that all-lane running motorways are associated with the higher rates of fatalities and serious injuries. “Fundamentally in all-lane-running motorways, we have a motorway that is less safe than the original smart motorways, and as a result people are dying or being seriously injured on those roads,” she said.

More from UK

“In terms of the decision making that has led to this point, the evidence suggests that those decisions have been underpinned by evidence that is incomplete and hasn’t made those decisions fully informed.”

Jason Mercer, 44, had been traveling on the M1 close to Sheffield in June 2019 when he was involved in a minor accident with another vehicle driven by 22-year-old Alexandru Murgeanu. The two men pulled into the left lane of the motorway to exchange details because there was no hard shoulder. Just minutes later a lorry ploughed into them at over 50 miles per hour, killing them both.

“I started to suspect he was involved in a crash, I started to hear about it, it paralysed the whole area,” Jason widow Claire Mercer told Sky News. “When I opened my door to police officers I just froze and I just started with the worst-case scenario, and I thought that anything they said would be an improvement, and I just asked, ‘is he alive?’ “And after pushing, they wanted me to go in, I just couldn’t move, I said it again.

Smart motorways: Roads without a hard shoulder linked to more accidents and fatalitiesImage: Claire Mercer is campaigning to outlaw motorways without hard shoulders.

File pic

“And they said ‘no’, and I just fell to the floor they had to pick me up. It took medication to get me to stop shaking six weeks afterwards.” Lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba was jailed for 10 months, with the judge saying that the main cause of this fatal crash was his inattention to the road ahead.

But the coroner in the inquest into Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu’s deaths said it was “clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy”. Ms Mercer believes her husband would still be alive if the road he was driving on had a hard shoulder. “They just pulled over where they could, they pulled over as far to the left, but a crash barrier stopped them getting out of the lane completely, and behind the crash barrier was 30ft drop on to the slip road, so they couldn’t even get over the barrier.”

Since her husband’s death Ms Mercer has campaigned tirelessly to outlaw motorways without hard shoulders. An additional 300 miles of smart motorways without hard shoulders will be rolled out across England by 2025, according to Highways England. In a statement Highways England said they were reviewing the report.

They added: “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.”