MP's smart motorway plea as grieving families take action

MP's smart motorway plea as grieving families take action

By Adele Forrest | 03/12/2020

MP's smart motorway plea as grieving families take action
MP Sarah Champion


CAMPAIGNING Sarah Champion has condemned an “outrageous” decision to press ahead with more than 130 miles of new smart motorways without implementing safety improvements.

The MP has called for a ban on the controversial Government-run Highways England scheme following four deaths in ten months on the 16 miles of M1 near Rotherham.

Among those was 44-year-old Jason Mercer whose widow Claire has also demanded the controversial “all-lane running” motorway system be scrapped.

In January, a parliamentary report found Highways England does not have enough resources and systems in place to respond to “live lane” breakdowns quickly enough.

In March, Ms Champion secured a number of commitments for safety improvements from the Government, including an increase in the number of emergency refuges, a maximum one-mile distance between them and, where possible, a frequency of one per three-quarters of a mile.

But smart motorway schemes recently given the green light will go ahead with refuges between 1.04 and 1.39 miles apart.

“It is outrageous that, just eight months after announcing much-needed safety improvements, the Government is pressing ahead with schemes that fail to implement them into their design,” she said.

“In announcing safety improvements, the Government has already tacitly admitted that existing designs are unsafe.

“While there are challenges in retrofitting existing schemes, I can see no good reason why improvements cannot be incorporated into schemes that have not even begun.”

She is urging the Government to reconsider its approach and commit to delivering the improvements on all new and existing smart motorways.

Jason, of Broom, and Nargis Begum (62), of Darnall, were killed after pulling over on the all-lane running model on the M1. 

Nargis’s stranded Nissan had its hazard lights on for 17 minutes when the other vehicle collided with it. The lane had not been closed.

In Jason’s case, it took ten minutes to close the lane he had broken down in — by which time he had been hit by a lorry driver, who has been sentenced to ten months in prison.

Grieving relatives are joining forces as they step up their campaign for them to be scrapped. 

Claire said: “It took police a year to build a case over the lorry driver’s five-second reaction delay but they are refusing to investigate Highways England’s ten-minute delay.”

She has instructed lawyers to investigate bringing a judicial review against Highways England, while Nargis’s family have launched a separate legal case against the body.

Helen Smith, public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell solicitors, said: “Claire and Nargis’s family are steadfast in their belief that smart motorways cost lives. 

“As part of our investigations into Claire’s case, we’re continuing to uncover more information about smart motorways which backs up that view.  

“A recent survey also found more than half of drivers questioned didn’t know how to use a smart motorway, which just adds to the groundswell of opinion that there needs to be change.”

The families want to hear from others who have either been injured or had relatives die on the stretches of road where the traditional hard shoulder has been replaced.

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