A leading personal injuries lawyer has told Highways News he does not think that Highways England is at risk of being found guilty of corporate manslaughter over deaths on a smart motorway, but that the government-owned company will need to consider the issues and determine if anything further can be done to maximise the safety of road users.
Steven Baylis of Lime Solicitors was reacting to a Coroner’s comments that smart motorways without a hard shoulder carry “an ongoing risk of future deaths” after recording a version of unlawful killing into the deaths of two men on the M1 in 2019.
“The use of smart motorways creates an unusual dilemma,” said Baylis. “The aim is to reduce congestion, which in itself is found to reduce accidents. However, as can be seen from the case in question and other accidents on these particular stretches of motorway, it does seem to create risks to motorists that would not be present were a hard shoulder available.
“That said, many collisions occur where the motorists involved do not have the option of moving to the hard shoulder, thus exposing themselves to the risks of being struck by other motorists, should they exit their vehicles. In the case in question, the deaths were caused by the negligence of another motorist, who was not driving in a safe manner. Whilst having a hard shoulder available affords the safest option for motorists involved in collisions or break-downs, should they be able to get to the hard shoulder, it will not eliminate the risk of accidents like this occurring. As these accidents are caused by the negligence of other motorists, I cannot see there being a finding of Corporate Manslaughter; however, Highways England will need to consider the issues and determine if anything further can be done to maximise the safety of road users.
“It is of course always deeply sad to learn of serious and sometimes fatal accidents. In this particular incident, the presence of an available hard shoulder could have avoided this tragic accident occurring. It remains the case though that any significant investment in road expansion schemes would result in more congestion and fewer lanes on motorways in the short-term. As such, there may still be an increased risk of stop start traffic and greater numbers of accidents. Likewise, if hard shoulders are to be retained and not used to facilitate smart motorways then this too may create additional congestion and increased accident numbers. I do agree with the coroner this needs to be looked at to determine in the absence of substantial infrastructure investment, whether the use of smart motorways is found to be overall safer than retaining hard shoulders, albeit the risks of tragic accidents such as this one might still occur.
“The obvious benefit to the government of smart motorways, is that is eases congestion, without the need to invest in expensive motorway expansion schemes. With an increasing population and more vehicles on the road network, a longer term strategy is clearly required. Increased and cheaper access to public transport may not be a bad start.”
(Picture – Highways News)