Smart Motorways: Stop them now or more people will die, says South Yorkshire widow Claire Mercer

Smart motorways should be stopped now, or more people will die, says the widow of a man killed one of the conroversial roads near Sheffield.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 10:54 am

Claire Mercer, from Rotherham, whose husband Jason died on a stretch of ‘smart motorway’ near Sheffield in 2019 says a Government announcement today that it will put the roll out of the roads on hold is a gradual move in the right direction.

But she says it is a missed opportunity to do the even easier thing – and close the inside lanes now.

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Claire Mercer, pictured in front of a picture of husband Jason, wants hard shoulders restored immediately on 'smart motorways', which she blames for Jason's death.

Claire, who campaigns to end ‘smart motorways’ which she considers dangerous and blames for Jason’s death, said: “All they have to do is throw the switch to switch off the first lane and we’ve got the hard shoulder back, even if they just do that while they investigate, yet again.

“But I’m from an engineering background, and if you think that machine’s faulty, you turn it off while you investigate it. Yet in the two and a half years while I’ve been campaigning against smart motorways, we must have had 25, at least, official investigations, reports, reviews, stocktakes, into smart motorways and never once have they turned off the first lane while they’re doing it.”

She said the announcement was a gradual step in the right direction but it could have been better.

She added: “The single fact is that people are dying in circumstances that they weren’t dying in before. They made a massive fundamental change, with the public’s money, to these dangerous environments.”

“It just comes down to it that if you absolutely have to stop on a motorway would you rather do it on a live running lane or on a hard shoulder? They don’t need stats. It’s common sense.

“More refuge areas is not going to solve this problem. Your vehicle is not going to break down at a convenient point.”

Claire is planning legal action and is in the process of launching a judicial review, which has been delayed by the pandemic. She fears more people will die on smart motorways before any High Court case.

Jason Mercer was killed on M1 near Meadowhall, Sheffield

Claire Mercer’s husband Jason was killed along with another man, Alexandru Murgeanu, on the M1 close to Meadowhall in June 2019.

The stretch of ‘smart motorway’ has no hard shoulder, which is now used as an active lane. If there is a crash or obstruction, electronic signs warn other drivers not to use the lane.

And at an inquest Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said the lack of a hard shoulder had contributed to the tragedy.

The Government says it is pausing the roll out of “all-lane running” smart motorways while their safety is assessed.

Five years of safety and economic data for the schemes will now be collected from the motorways built before 2020.

However, hard shoulders will not be reinstated on current stretches of all-lane running motorways.

The Government's move comes after MPs said in November there was not enough safety and economic data to justify this type of route.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multi-million pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps.”