Widow of man killed on M1 near Meadowhall praises decision to scrap new smart motorways

Smart motorway campaigner Claire Mercer, whose husband died in a crash on the M1 near Sheffield, has welcomed the Government’s decision to scrap new smart motorways but said she would continue pushing for the hard shoulder to return on every road.
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Rotherham man Jason Mercer, aged 44, died after being hit by a lorry on the M1 close to Meadowhall in 2019 in a collision which also claimed the life of 22-year-old Mansfield man Alexandru Murgeanu. Both men had been stranded in their vehicles which they had stopped on a stretch of so-called smart motorway, without hard shoulders, following a ‘minor shunt’.

The lorry driver was sentenced for causing their deaths by dangerous driving but Jason’s widow Claire Mercer, of Rotherham, said at the time that the ‘wrong person’ had been jailed and the people responsible for introducing smart motorways needed to be held accountable.

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Claire recently revealed how Jason’s ashes are due to be launched into space in a celebration of the keen astronomer’s life.

Jason’s widow Claire Mercer.Jason’s widow Claire Mercer.
Jason’s widow Claire Mercer.
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Ashes of man killed on M1 near Meadowhall to be sent into space as widow continu...

It was announced yesterday that the building of new smart motorways is being cancelled as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak acknowledged concerns about safety and cost.

Fourteen planned smart motorways – including 11 that are already paused and three earmarked for construction – will be removed from Government road building plans, given financial pressures and in recognition of the lack of public trust.

Speaking to the PA news agency Claire Mercer said: “It’s great, it’s very good news. I’m particularly happy that it’s been confirmed that the routes that are in planning, in progress, have also been cancelled. I didn’t think they’d do that.

Jason Mercer.Jason Mercer.
Jason Mercer.
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“So it’s good news, but obviously it’s the existing ones that are killing us. And I’m not settling for more emergency refuge areas. So it’s half the battle, but we’ve still got half the battle to go.”

Rotherham Labour MP Sarah Champion added: “I’m relieved the Government has finally listened to motorists and common sense, but this announcement is long overdue and I need to see the detail before celebrating.

“Will the Government be returning the hard shoulder on existing conversions? Will the schemes currently in construction be restored? Why now when two parliamentary select committee inquiries, their own review and countless campaigns by family members of those who died on these death traps wasn’t enough to persuade them.

“Hopefully this is finally the end of a deadly, cost-saving gamble with our lives.”

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The Department for Transport said the construction of these schemes would have cost more than £1 billion.

But the department added that the construction of two stretches of smart motorway at junctions six to eight of the M56 and 21a to 26 of the M6 will continue as they are already more than three quarters complete.

Existing stretches will remain but be subjected to a safety refit so there are 150 more emergency stopping places across the network.

Around 10 per cent of England’s motorway network is made up of smart motorways.

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They involve various methods to manage the flow of traffic, such as converting the hard shoulder into a live running lane and variable speed limits.

But there have been long-standing safety fears following fatal incidents in which vehicles stopped in live lanes without a hard shoulder were hit from behind.

In January 2022, the Government paused the expansion of motorways where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane.

This was to enable five years of data to be collected to assess whether they are safe for drivers.

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In his Tory leadership campaign last summer, Mr Sunak vowed to ban them.

“All drivers deserve to have confidence in the roads they use to get around the country,” the Prime Minister said.

“That’s why last year I pledged to stop the building of all new smart motorways, and today I’m making good on that promise.

“Many people across the country rely on driving to get to work, to take their children to school and go about their daily lives, and I want them to be able to do so with full confidence that the roads they drive on are safe.”

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AA president Edmund King said: “We have had enough coroners passing down their deadly and heart-breaking judgments where the lack of a hard shoulder has contributed to deaths.

“At last the Government has listened and we are delighted to see the rollout of ‘smart’ motorways scrapped…

“We would also like to see the hard shoulder reinstated on existing stretches in due course.”

RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said: “Our research shows all lane running smart motorways are deeply unpopular with drivers so we’re pleased the Government has finally arrived at the same conclusion.

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“It’s now vitally important that plans are made for making the hundreds of existing miles of these types of motorway as safe as possible.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “We want the public to know that this Government is listening to their concerns.

“Today’s announcement means no new smart motorways will be built, recognising the lack of public confidence felt by drivers and the cost pressures due to inflation.”