Smart Motorway safety upgrades 'do nothing' to help motorists in danger, says South Yorkshire M1 widow

The widow of a man killed in a crash near Sheffield has dismissed a raft of safety upgrades announced for Smart Motorways.

Friday, 13th May 2022, 8:56 am

An annual report by National Highways, published on Thursday, May 12, claims it will bulk up safety equipment on the controversial all lanes running (ALR) schemes within five months.

Motorways without a permanent hard shoulder will be fitted with 100 safety cameras to detect when vehicles ignore red X lane closures, 330 more signs showing the distance to the next emergency refuge, and radar technology to spot stalled motorists.

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Traffic on the M1 before junction 33. National Highways has announced a series of safety upgrades for Smart Motorways, but the widow of a man killed on the M1 says they do not do enough.

But the measures have been criticised by Claire Mercer, from Rotherham, founder of the Smart Motorways Kill Facebook page.

"A sign doesn’t help you when you’re engine’s stopped,” Claire told the Star. “None of these would have saved my husband.”

Claire’s husband, Jason Mercer, as well as Alexandru Murgeanu, died after being hit by a lorry on a stretch of the M1 in 2019 when the smart lane did not display a red X in time to show they had come to a stop on the ALR route.

Since then, Claire has campaigned tirelessly for the scheme to be scrapped and hard shoulders to be reinstated.

Claire Mercer has campaigned for smart motorways to be scrapped following the death of her husband Jason on the M1 in 2019. Picture: Chris Etchells

With Thursday’s publication of the Smart Motorway ‘second year progress report’, Claire says she also received a letter from chief executive of National Highways Nick Harris detailing the measures and to “express my ongoing sympathy” for her loss.

"I was surprised to receive that,” said Claire.

"Nothing they say matters on a personal level until someone says we’re cancelling the scheme.

"None of these measures help anyone in an emergency. If the cameras on the red X lanes are for fining people, then I don’t know why they haven’t been fining people since the beginning, as no one would be ignoring them if they had been that way all along.”

The new ANPR cameras will give police the ability to issue £100 fines to offenders without spotting them in the act, as had been required previously.

When a vehicle stalls on a Smart Motorway, an overhead gantry should shut the appropriate lane by displaying a red X. Before this can happen, the vehicle must be reported to a control room and verified by either a camera or a traffic officer.

Research suggests the average time between a vehicle stalling and the lane closing is 17 minutes.

National Highways claims the new cameras mean breakdowns will be reported faster. But Claire disagrees.

“They’re making the wrong bit faster,” she said. “Reporting it to the control room is already the quickest part of it. It’s the human side of it that needs to be quicker.

"The lanes should close automatically.”

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said: “It is now two years since the Transport Secretary first published the smart motorway stocktake, and today’s report shows that we are making good progress delivering on these ambitious recommendations. But we are not complacent.

“We are continuing our work to make them our safest roads in every way.”

In January, the Department for Transport halted the development of new smart motorways without a hard shoulder until five years of safety data had been collected.

It comes after families in February expressed disappointment National Highways would not face corporate manslaughter charges for Smart Motorway deaths.

Other Sheffield deaths include Nargis Begum, 62, a mother-of-five and grandmother-of-nine from Darnall who died in September 2018 after a car smashed into her and husband Mohammed’s broken down car on a stretch of smart motorway near Woodall Services.