Transport bosses rejected extra smart motorway lay-bys where two died

George Martin
·3 min read
File photo dated 27/1/2010 of work continues near Wokingham, Berkshire, on turning the M4 Motorway into a digital Mototway. Britain's so-called smart motorways have been branded a "death trap" by MPs in a report which has prompted criticism of Highways England.
A section of the M4 being turned into a smart motorway (PA)

Motorway bosses reportedly rejected plans to build more lay-bys on a smart motorway where two people have lost their lives because of budget concerns, The Times reports.

Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, were hit by a lorry on 7 June last year after pulling over following a minor collision between junction 32 and 35a of the M1 in South Yorkshire.

The pair had reportedly pulled onto the slow inside lane to exchange details but, because the hard shoulder had been converted into an extra vehicle lane, they were unable to fully move off.

They were about a mile away from the nearest lay-by. A 2012 report seen by The Times suggested increasing the number of lay-bys from eight to 14.

Newly installed Transport Secretary Grant Shapps leaves Downing Street, London, after meeting the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said last week that no new smart motorways will be opened until a Government safety review is completed (PA)

According to newspaper, senior transport officers decided against installing additional safety measures on the road, citing fears it may have added up to 2% to the bill.

The report published by the Highways Agency, the precursor to Highways England said that increasing the number of refuge areas would cause “potentially significant increases in cost” and “significant delays to [the] programme”.

The smart motorway system is intended to allow operators watching on CCTV to close affected lanes by marking them with a red ‘X’ on an overhead sign.


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Lawyers for Mr Mercer’s widow said the lane was not closed for six minutes, by which time both men had been hit by the truck.

Clare Mercer has threatened to sue Highways England for corporate manslaughter – saying that bosses at the government-funded company had “failed in their duty of care”.

Last week, transport secretary Grant Shapps announced that no new smart motorways will be opened until a government safety review is completed.

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Mr Shapps told the Commons that a £92 million project in Kent is among those that will not open to traffic while the dangers of the roads are assessed.

When Mr Shapps announced his review in October 2019, he said he wanted to ensure all motorways in the country are “as safe as they possibly can be”.

Parts of the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62 have been converted.

But there are growing concerns that the removal of a permanent hard shoulder has created a safety hazard, with some drivers being killed after stopping in live running lanes.

A recent investigation by BBC Panorama found that 38 people have been killed on smart motorways in the past five years.

A report by the all-party parliamentary group for roadside rescue and recovery earlier this week claimed the roads are a “death trap”.

A Highways England spokesperson told Yahoo News: “Any death on our roads is a tragedy and safety is always our number one priority.

“The Department for Transport is considering a range of evidence during their stocktake. We expect the results to be published shortly and to provide the most up to date assessment of the safety of smart motorways.

“We are committed to implementing any new recommendations as part of our ongoing work to make our roads even safer.”