South Yorkshire police boss calls for smart motorways to be scrapped in hope of saving lives

South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has written to the transport secretary calling for smart motorways to be scrapped.

By Claire Lewis
Sunday, 24th January 2021, 8:00 am

Dr Alan Billings wrote to Grant Shapps after this week’s inquest into the deaths of Rotherham man Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu, from Mansfield, who died in a collision on a stretch of the M1 motorway near Sheffield in June 2019.

Mr Mercer, aged 44, and Mr Murgeanu, 22, died when a lorry driven by 40-year-old Prezemyslaw Szuba, crashed into their vehicles after they stopped to exchange details following a minor collision where there is no hard shoulder.

Truck driver Szuba, from Hull, was jailed for 10 months last October for causing death by careless driving.

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South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner wants smart motorways scrapped

Coroner David Urpeth recorded a verdict of unlawful killing and vowed to write to Highways England and the Transport Secretary asking for a review of smart motorways after ruling that the lack of a hard shoulder ‘contributed’ to the two deaths.

In his letter to Mr Shapps, Dr Billings said: “The coroner found that having no hard shoulder contributed to their deaths and I want to support that finding and urge you in the light of it to review this type of motorway with some urgency.

“I believe smart motorways of this kind – where what would be a hard shoulder is a live lane with occasional refuges – are inherently unsafe and dangerous and should be abandoned.

“This is a view we have consistently held in South Yorkshire and a previous chief constable was forthright in saying this before the programme was embarked upon.

L-R: Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu

“In a normal year I would drive along this part of the motorway many times. It increases anxiety and tension knowing that should you break down, you may slow down considerably or come to a halt in a live lane with heavy goods vehicles coming up at speed behind. This is not my idea of ‘safe’. People need to be safe but also to feel safe when driving.

“In addition, it is one of a number of different types of motorway in South and West Yorkshire and that in itself is confusing and unhelpful for those who use them. These motorways are also busy with lorries from abroad and the different types of motorway within a relatively few miles cannot be easy for them to understand.

“In summary, I think the coroner’s verdict makes it imperative now to abandon this type of motorway before more lives are lost. I urge you or your officials to meet with me and others concerned with road safety in South Yorkshire when we can make the case in more detail.”

Mr Mercer’s widow, Claire, who has campaigned for smart motorways to be scrapped since her husband’s death, said: “When I first started this campaign 18 months ago it was 50/50 whether people supported smart motorways. People did not appreciate the dangers but now as more and more people have experienced incidents they now say they are absolutely terrifying.

“A soldier who has been to war zones even contacted us to say smart motorways terrify him more.

“The pressure is mounting on the Government to scrap these before any more lives are lost. I will fight this for as long as it takes so that Jason did not die in vain.”