Smart motorway deaths: Safety assurances 'a big job'

A smart motorway during a crash Image copyright
Image caption Lilian Greenwood said the public and organisations like the AA are concerned smart motorways are "simply not safe"

An MP has said Highways England has a "big job" to convince the public that smart motorways are safe.

Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood, head of the Transport Committee, has written to the organisation asking for assurances about the actions they've taken to improve their safety.

It follows the death of two men who were hit on the M1 near Sheffield.

Highways England said smart motorways are "as safe" than those with a permanent hard shoulder.

The committee is planning to question the authority at a meeting later this month.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Ms Greenwood said: "We've recently written to Highways England because there are these continued concerns from members of the public and other organisations, such as the AA, that it is simply not safe.

"Highways England has got a big job to convince the public and my committee that people are safe and they know what they need to do when they're using a smart motorway."

Paul Unwin, Highways England smart motorways programme sponsor, has defended the scheme.

He said: "Our smart motorways are as safe, if not much safer, than traditional motorways."

He claimed motorists are already experiencing "huge safety benefits" from smart motorways, as the 12 stretches currently in place have seen a 27% reduction in incidents.

Image copyright
Image caption Emergency bays have been built to replace the hard shoulder

In June, Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, from Mansfield, were driving along a smart motorway section of the M1 near Sheffield when they had a minor collision.

When the men stopped to exchanged details, they were hit by an oncoming lorry and killed.

Image caption Clare Mercer said she plans to sue Highways England for corporate manslaughter over her husband's death

Mr Mercer's widow Clare, from Rotherham, is planning to sue Highways England for corporate manslaughter.

She said: "They pulled over into what should have been the hard shoulder and they tried to pull over out of that as well but unfortunately there are barriers and bankings in the way."

Ms Greenwood said there should be more emergency refuge areas for drivers.

She added: "Obviously if there is no hard shoulder, it can be difficult to get away from traffic.

"The previous select committee recommended there should be more emergency refuge areas and they should be 500 to 800 metres apart, as they were in the M42 pilot."

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