Widow's anger as new safety measures ruled out at "smart motorway" blackspot

Widow's anger as new safety measures ruled out at "smart motorway" blackspot

By Adele Forrest | 14/09/2021

Widow's anger as new safety measures ruled out at 'smart motorway' blackspot


ROTHERHAM’S so-called smart motorway has seen an increase in fatal collisions and those involving serious injuries — but no further safety measures will be installed on the “lethal” stretch of road where two people died.

The findings of a review into accident blackspots on the controversial all-lane-running stretch of the M1 have been criticised by Rotherham MP Sarah Champion and campaigning widow Claire Mercer.

The long-awaited report from National Highways, formerly Highways England, found the number of serious injury collisions per year between junctions 32 and 35 had increased under the new arrangements — from ten between 2014 to 2016, to 15 between 2017 to 2019.

Fatal injury collisions also increased from one in three years, to three in three years — including the death of Claire’s husband Jason Mercer (44) and fellow motorist Alexandru Murgeanu (22) in June 2019.

Widow Claire, of Broom, said: “We knew when Jason died that it was an accident blackspot.

“Now it’s been over two years and it’s still just known as an accident blackspot — nothing has changed.

“The only thing they are going to do is add an extra emergency refuge area and that’s not near where Jason died — it’s where Nargis Begum died.”

Mrs Begum (62) died in 2018 after her car broke down on an all-lane running section near the Woodall services and she was hit as it sat in the inside lane.

“They think that’s good enough,” added Claire. “It’s not.”

Issues highlighted in the report include congestion around junction 33, which National Highways said would be addressed by the ongoing Sheffield Parkway widening project, and a “cluster” of collisions in a live-lane near Woodall, where an extra emergency refuge will be built.

Ms Champion said the report “falls short” by committing to some safety improvements but not to the inclusion of extra safety refuge areas or the scrapping of the all-lanes system — and no extra measures on the spot between junction 34 and 35 where Jason died.

“I am appalled that National Highways has failed to commit to real safety improvements on this lethal stretch of road,” she said.

“Fundamentally, it was the lack of a safe refuge that led to the death of Jason Mercer.

“Despite acknowledging the alarming rise in serious and fatal incidents, none of the measures proposed in the report will address this fatal flaw.

“No additional refuges will be built, the hard shoulder will not be returned, and motorists will continue to run huge risks should they break down or be forced to stop.”

National Highways’ previous progress report into safety improvements on smart motorways acknowledged the need for frequent refuge areas where the hard shoulder has been removed.

It committed new schemes to feature refuges spaced, where feasible, every three-quarters of a mile, with no more than one mile between places to stop.

Ms Champion condemned the failure to deliver similar improvements on recognised blackspots, adding: “In committing to much reduced spacing between refuges on future smart motorway schemes, National Highways has acknowledged that existing schemes are unsafe.

“Yet more than two years from Jason’s death, nothing has been done to address this fundamental problem.

“The families of victims of these blackspots, including Jason’s widow, Claire, have been expectantly waiting for 18 months for the findings of this report.

“The result is an insult, offering no real answers and no solutions.

“It is high time the Department for Transport listened to bereaved families, campaigners, motorists’ organisations and members from across the House and abandoned these dangerous, ill-thought-out schemes, instead, they seem ideologically intent to roll them out, regardless of the known risks they pose.”

National Highways Chief Executive, Nick Harris, said: “We do understand the strength of feeling about safety on this section of the M1 and are committed to making further improvements. That is why we commissioned an independent investigation of the factors which have contributed to incidents.

“Our report details the measures we have completed and those we are developing to take forward.

“We’re also committed to continuing engagement with Ms Champion to discuss her concerns.”


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