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Case Study

Keith Barrett represents family of Dev Naran killed on M6 ‘smart’ motorway

In May 2018, eight-year-old Dev Naran was killed instantly on the M6 motorway near Birmingham after a lorry driver collided with the car driven by Dev’s grandfather.

In May 2018, eight-year-old Dev Naran was killed instantly on the M6 motorway near Birmingham after a lorry driver collided with the car driven by Dev’s grandfather.

At the time, the family’s car was stopped on the hard shoulder of the motorway, which had been turned into an active lane by Highways England (HE) earlier in the day.

Keith supported Dev’s family at the inquest into the young boy’s death at Birmingham Coroner’s Court in October this year. Two Highway’s England employees - Maxwell Brown, Head of Road Design, Safety, Engineering and Standards, and Andrew Butterfield, Head of Service Delivery West Midlands - gave evidence at the inquest.

After hearing evidence, Emma Brown, the West Midlands area coroner, issued a Section 28 Preventing Future Deaths report – the most serious ruling open to her – warning that further lives were at risk with the continued use of ‘smart’ motorways to ease traffic congestion. She said turning the hard shoulder into an active lane can ‘confuse motorists’.

Ms Brown also highlighted that the HE staff failed to spot the car, despite numerous CCTV cameras covering the route and voiced her concern that no discussions were in place to improve monitoring of smart motorways. 
She wrote that despite signs saying the hard shoulder was open to traffic, “there is a real risk that drivers seeing a hard shoulder bordered by solid white lines (and who may have used the road when the hard shoulder is not in use as a live lane) may become confused and forget/fail to register that the hard shoulder is operating as a live lane.”

The court also heard that there was a 2.5 mile gap between emergency laybys where it is safe for motorists to stop. Research by Highways England revealed that 19,316 vehicles stopped in flowing traffic in 2017 and last year, equivalent to 26 a day.

As reported the day after the inquest by the Daily Telegraph, the coroner had quickly identified serious lacunas in the systems meant to keep Dev and others safe, particularly HE’s reliance on MIDAS. A glaring error in this system means that while it measures traffic flow, it does not respond to a stationary vehicle in the hard shoulder lane and claims that it is monitored at all times are simply fanciful. The result is that any one of roughly 20 motorists a day finding themselves stranded on an active hard shoulder is effectively a sitting duck.

Since the inquest, Highway’s England told the transport select committee it would halt plans for any further dynamic hard shoulder schemes and the Government has ordered a review into how smart motorways operate.
What are smart motorways?

In 2000, Highways England announced a £200 billion investment programme to improve England’s roads. £6 billion was earmarked specifically for the creation of active traffic management schemes on some of England’s busiest motorways. In reality, that meant turning the hard shoulder into a live traffic lane at certain times to increase traffic capacity and ease congestion.

The first smart motorway opened in 2006 at junctions 3a to 7 on the M42.  Its design has since been widely replicated on far busier motorways, including the M1, M4 and M6.

All would rely on overhead electronic signs to inform the driver that the lane was active, emergency refuge areas every 600-1000m and a CCTV network connected to regional Highways England operations centres to monitor traffic and respond to emergencies.

An additional safety feature on some motorways including the M6 would be an artificial intelligence system called Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling (MIDAS), which would automatically monitor traffic flow, reduce the mandatory speed restriction, send out warnings to overhead signs and in some cases close the hard shoulder lane to live traffic.

From the start, motorist pressure groups were concerned that smart motorways were not safe, particularly if a significant education and awareness programme was not also rolled out simultaneously. Particularly concerning was that British drivers, unused to the concept of smart motorways, could be completely unaware of such a scheme and could be easily confused.

A recent AA survey found that 70 per cent of those questioned felt smart motorways were more dangerous than motorways with static hard shoulders.

Keith and Lewis Ayre continue to represent the family in an ongoing personal injury claim involving the insurers of the vehicles involved. He also supports the ongoing campaign to highlight the dangers of smart motorways to prevent further tragedy.

Read more about road traffic accident claims.