Coroners write to National Highways over smart motorway fears as agency spends £500k on legal fees

28 November 2023, 08:19 | Updated: 28 November 2023, 09:54

National Highways has been contacted by coroners over smart motorways
National Highways has been contacted by coroners over smart motorways. Picture: Alamy
Henry Riley

By Henry Riley

Coroners have written to National Highways to express concerns following the verdict of inquests relating to the multiple fatalities on smart motorways.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The public body charged with operating, maintaining and improving motorways is under increasing scrutiny after figures obtained by LBC showed it has spent over half a million pounds on legal costs on eleven inquests.

Eight coroners from across the country have issued a "Regulation 28 Report to Prevent Future Deaths" directly to National Highways following inquests since 2018 where a motorist or passenger has been killed on a smart motorway.

The campaign group Smart Motorways Kill estimated there have been over 100 deaths linked to smart motorways since 2016, with its founder Claire Mercer saying "many more" have been injured.

Conservative MP Karl McCartney, who sits on the Transport Select Committee, told LBC "the figures are worrying", adding: "National Highways need to attend coroners' inquests and make their case, but their case has been built on a false premise for many years."

LBC can also reveal that the agency, tasked with the implementation and regulation of "smart motorways', has spent £525,549.25 on legal fees.

Read more: 'People need to stay away if they can - it's not safe': Whistleblower tells LBC a smart motorway outage is risking lives

Transport Secretary discusses 'smart motorways' with Nick Ferrari

The over half-a-million-pound sum relates to outside legal costs incurred by National Highways during eleven inquests since 2019 involving fatalities on the stretches of the motorway.

But, Transport Secretary Mark Harper told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that smart motorways remain some of the safest.

"Smart Motorways remain the safest roads of the strategic roads network," Mr Harper told Nick, before adding "the public don't have confidence in them."

He revealed there would be no new smart motorways and money would be spent in improving public confidence in the existing schemes.

McCartney, who also previously served as a transport minister, added that it was "a large amount of money which could have been spelt elsewhere". He told LBC: "We need to rescind the policy that was so-called smart motorways. I have never accepted that smart motorways are safer than other motorways."

His concerns over smart motorways were echoed by Labour MP Sarah Champion, who told LBC: "The fact that eight coroners now have written to National Highways to express their concerns over the roads, because of the multiple casualties and deaths, and they're still trying to fight and defend their position, is immoral."

The senior Labour MP, who chairs the International Development Committee, added: "Let's remember the half-a-million-pounds is taxpayers money, that is being used to fight against taxpayers who have died because of these smart motorways.

"It just feels like National Highways have gone rogue. They are doubling down on these ridiculous smart motorways, and are now using taxpayers money to justify their position."

Read more: Rishi Sunak scraps smart motorways plan citing soaring costs and a lack of public trust

Nick Simmons, the CEO of RoadPeace, said: "Our members have been very concerned about smart motorways for a long time, and say that they are not safe."

Simmons, who represents those bereaved and injured by road crashes, as well as their families, told LBC that their members have "found it very difficult to engage with National Highways and to point out some of these issues".

He added: "If you speak to members of the general public, they just instinctively don't feel safe when they’re driving on a smart motorway. They're wrong and they need to be stopped."

A spokesperson for National Highways spokesperson told LBC: "Any loss of life is a tragedy and our sympathies remain with the families affected.

"Safety is our highest priority and it's important we engage fully with inquests. This is not about defending smart motorways.

"Our attendance is to assist coroners in determining the cause and circumstances of each incident by providing factual information, including how our roads operate and are designed.

"We and the government continue to invest £900 million in further safety improvements on existing smart motorways."

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Sarah Justine Packwood, 54, and her husband, Brett Clibbery, 70.

Mystery as Brit woman and husband attempting to cross Atlantic found dead in lifeboat one month after going missing

Five days of big names: LBC announces guest host week

Five days of big names: LBC announces guest host week

Rachel Reeves

Rachel Reeves vows 'big bang' for pensions as government launches review in bid to boost investment and savings

Amanda Abbington has claimed Giovanni Pernice was 'cruel and abusive'.

Strictly's Amanda Abbington breaks silence over 'cruel' Giovanni Pernice - as first female pro under fire

Donald Trump spoke at a rally for the first time since he was shot in the ear

Donald Trump says he ‘took a bullet for democracy’ at first rally since assassination attempt

A burnt out car in the Leeds suburb of Harehills, after vehicles were set on fire and a police car was overturned as residents were warned to stay home following an outbreak of disorder on Thursday evening. Picture date: Friday July 19, 2024.

Man charged with arson after bus set on fire in Leeds riots over children allegedly removed from local family

Craig Revel Horwood has said the recent allegations have come as a 'shock' to him

Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood breaks silence after 'shock' of dancing show's abuse allegations

A series of Israeli strikes have been launched against the Houthi-controlled port city of Hodeidah in Yemen

Israel launches series of air strikes on Houthi-controlled city in Yemen day after group claim deadly attack on Tel Aviv

Jay Slater and his mum, Debbie Duncan

Jay Slater's GoFundMe page hits £70k after teen's mum appeals for funeral donations

Holidaymakers have been left stranded during global IT outage

'We're not being given any information': Furious holidaymaker stranded in Rhodes tells of travel hell after IT outage

A burnt out car in the Leeds suburb of Harehills, after vehicles were set on fire and a police car was overturned as residents were warned to stay home following an outbreak of disorder on Thursday evening. Picture date: Friday July 19, 2024.

Further unrest in Leeds as hundreds take to streets to 'demand return of children' allegedly removed from local family

NHS England has warned of "continued disruption" to GP services into next week.

NHS warns of GP disruption after global IT outage as trains, planes and roads remain in chaos leaving Brits stranded

Planes, trains and roads have been hit by travel chaos following Friday's IT outage.

Holiday hell: Trains, planes and roads in chaos after global IT outage - with thousands of Brits stranded abroad

Graham Gomm

Prisoner who escaped custody at HMP Wormwood Scrubs during hospital trip is arrested following manhunt

Charles and Camilla attend the King's Parade outside Pomme d'Or Hotel, Liberation Square in St Helier, Jersey

Charles and Camilla 'rushed to safety by security' after suspect 'spotted on roof' just days after Trump rally shooting

A highway bridge collapsed in northwest China.

At least 12 people dead and more than 30 missing after China bridge collapses due to flooding