A WIDOW whose husband and a fellow motorist were killed on a new stretch of so-called “smart motorway” is calling for the controversial road set-up to be scrapped, saying their deaths were “avoidable”.
Claire Mercer (43) is suing Government-run Highways England over her husband Jason’s death and calling for a judicial review into the controversial move to do away with the hard shoulder, which she said had been “sneaked in through the back door”.
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said she was backing Claire’s campaign “to make sure no-one else is put at risk because of the ill-conceived scheme our region has been dumped with”.
Jason (44), of Broom, and Alexandru Murgeanu (22), from Mansfield, died in June when they were hit by a lorry after they pulled over to exchange details following a minor collision on the northbound M1 between Junction 34 at Meadowhall and 35 at Thorpe Hesley.
The HGV driver was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving and bailed pending further enquiries.
Four people have now died on the same 16-mile stretch of the M1 in ten months after they became stranded then hit by oncoming traffic on the inside lane of the motorway.
“I didn’t know for the first few days after Jason’s death that he hadn’t been in his vehicle,” said Claire.
“I just assumed it was a crash on the motorway but I was later told they had a minor bump while travelling and had stopped to swap details, which they believed was a legal obligation.
“They didn’t know what the procedure was on a smart motorway - the emergency refuge area was a mile away.
“There’s only a split second to make a decision when you’re travelling at 50 to 70mph and there isn’t enough awareness about what drivers are supposed to do.”
Claire claims Highways England does not have adequate technology to detect stranded vehicles and divert traffic on stretches of motorways where hard shoulders have been turned into extra lanes to reduce congestion.
On the day of his death, Jason had picked up a company car and was heading to a building site in Huddersfield.
Claire said her husband’s death was “avoidable” and he “shouldn’t have been put in the way of harm”.
She added: “I look at pictures of him and I can’t believe I’m never going to see him again.”
Claire also believes the smart motorway system made it harder for emergency services to reach the scene after the collision.
Since his death she has been devastated to learn of “hundreds of terrible experiences” on smart motorways and has started a website at smartmotorwayskill.co.uk.
“I do think it’s starting to show the magnitude against it and what’s been sneaked in through the back door,” she said.
Parliamentary transport reports into smart motorways were “mind-blowing”, she said.
“All they talk about is increasing the flow of traffic and the need to increase capacity of traffic but budgets don’t allow for that,” she said.
“That’s basically it, they need to increase capacity and they are not getting enough money to do it properly.”
Claire has launched a petition, backed by Mr Murgeanu’s devastated family, calling on Parliament to scrap smart motorways.
Ms Champion said: “Smart motorways were meant to be the Government’s solution to traffic congestion and motorway safety.
“The all-lane running version we have in South Yorkshire is only a Smart Motorway in name; in reality, it’s just using the hard shoulder without the investment to make it remotely safe.
“I fully support Claire Mercer in her campaign to make sure no-one else is put at risk because of the ill-conceived scheme our region has been dumped with.
“Jason’s death has highlighted what we already knew - without a hard shoulder you have no place of refuge and there is no way for an emergency vehicle to reach you.
“I will be doing all I can to make sure the transport minister reverses the decision to create this lethal stretch of road.”
A spokesperson for Highways England said it could not comment due to the active police investigation.
“Safety is our top priority and we will continue to evaluate all lane running schemes and work closely with all the emergency services to ensure safety is maintained,” added the spokesperson.
“The evidence shows that where all lane running has been introduced, there have been fewer collisions and congestion has reduced despite an increased number of vehicles using them.”