THE widow of a Rotherham man killed in a smart motorway crash welcomed the government’s announcement new stretches of the under-fire system will be halted – but will continue to campaign against them.
Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason died on the M1 just outside Rotherham in 2019, cautiously welcomed the decision but will still press on with her demands for the hard shoulder to be reinstated on all-lane-running motorways.
“While any measure to improve road safety is welcome, I feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
“I’m determined not to let Jason’s death be in vain. Each casualty isn’t just a statistic. Behind every number is a story of human tragedy and how families are torn apart and grieving relatives are often left to pick up the pieces.
“I’ll continue to campaign for the reinstatement of hard shoulders as I believe this is what will improve road safety more than any retrofitting of technology.”
Helen Smith, a lawyer who represents Claire, said the move “vindicates many concerns that accept the rollout of all-lane-running motorways was premature and tangible action is needed to improve road safety”.
Ministers have today announced they will immediately cease building any more all-lane running motorways (ALRs) while a more thorough safety audit is carried out.
Existing ALRs will see a total of £900 million spent retrofitting more emergency refuges and installing technology to detect stranded vehicles.
It follows campaigning by families and recommendations by Parliament’s transport safety committee last year that the rollout of all-lane running roads should be paused until five years of safety data is available.
Claire’s husband, Jason (44), and Alexandru Murgreanu (22) of Mansfield, were killed in June 2019, when they were knocked down by a lorry in a live lane shortly after a minor collision on the M1 near Meadowhall.
Ms Smith added: “The issues around safety and smart motorways are well documented and we continue to hear more and more first-hand accounts of how people’s lives have been changed forever following collisions on these controversial roads.
“While Claire believes this is a step in the right direction she believes more still needs to be done to stop families being torn apart because of smart motorway collisions. We do not rule out further legal action.
“We continue to investigate evidence around existing ALRs and concerns over their safety and we are in agreement with campaigners like Claire who argue that much more needs to be done before the public can be reassured that such roads don’t compromise safety to an unacceptable standard.
“It shouldn’t take the experiences of people like Claire and others we represent to force action and deliver safer roads for all.”
The coroner at Jason’s inquest said his and Mr Murgreanu’s deaths may have been avoided had there been a hard shoulder.
The Department for Transport said: “Evidence suggests hard shoulders do not always provide a safe place to stop, and by reducing motorway capacity, they could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death or serious injury if they were to divert onto less safe local roads.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.
“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.”
National Highways said it had listened to the public’s concerned and was committed to introducing the recommended measures.
“We will make existing sections as safe as they can possibly be and we will step up our advice to drivers so they have all the information they need.”
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said: “While I welcome the decision to pause the rollout of new smart motorways, existing schemes remain fundamentally unsafe.
“These deadly schemes should never have been commissioned without proper
safety data in place.
“I remain firmly of the view that reverting motorways to traditional operation, with permanent hard shoulders in place, is the only reasonable course if safety is truly the Government’s priority.”
South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings also called for a return to the hard shoulder system, adding: “I welcome the government's decision to review the safety of smart motorways, but continue to urge them to abandon the scheme altogether.
“We should be designing dangers out of roads not building them in.”