Widow's cardboard coffin protest to drive home smart motorway concerns to MPs

Widow's cardboard coffin protest to drive home smart motorway concerns to MPs

By Michael Upton | 04/11/2021

Widow's cardboard coffin protest to drive home smart motorway concerns to MPs


THE widow of a Rotherham man who died on a smart motorway was among protesters carrying cardboard coffins as they campaigned to scrap the controversial road system.

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason was killed after stopping on the M1 near Meadowhall in 2019 joined other grieving relatives and road accident casualties demonstrating outside Parliament on Monday.

There were 38 coffins in all — one for every person killed on a smart motorway between 2014 and 2019.

“I’ve been organising this for months but when we were actually there carrying coffins through Westminster the effect was quite striking,” said Claire.

“We had members of the public coming up and asking what it was about and some had not heard of smart motorways.

“I have more fire in me now and I will not stop campaigning until we get the hard shoulder back.”

The protest marked the day a committee of MPs published their report on the smart motorway set-up, under which the hard shoulder is replaced with another lane of traffic.

Claire and other campaigners have called for the all-lane-running format to be scrapped after a series of deaths on the stretches where it is in force.

The transport committee called for a pause on new schemes but stopped short of demanding a reversal to the old layout.

Claire branded the report a “damp squib”, saying it failed to go as far as previous Parliamentary reports.

MPs were against reinstating the hard shoulder, saying on balance the evidence suggested it would reduce safety.

They highlighted arguments that the resulting fall in capacity would cause safety issues by forcing more traffic onto other roads, and that having a hard shoulder made it more likely people would stop at the roadside.

Claire, of Broom, hit back: “Both those reasons are ludicrous. Someone said in evidence that having a hard shoulder made it less likely people would maintain their cars — that’s just ridiculous.

“As for traffic spreading onto A-roads, smart motorways are filling up the A-roads. I have hundreds of messages from people saying they won’t use smart motorways.”

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion echoed calls for the return of the hard shoulder.

She said the committee report’s findings confirmed all-lanes-running schemes had been “rushed through, without proper scrutiny or adequate safety data”.

Ms Champion backed the committee’s recommendation the Department for Transport instead look seriously into controlled motorways, which have some features for smart motorways but include a hard shoulder.

Wentworth & Dearne MP John Healey added: “This report adds to overwhelming evidence against so-called ‘smart motorways’.

“The Government’s been wrong to extend them without the safety systems needed and we’ve seen lives lost on the M1 near Rotherham.

“Ministers must now use this report to restore hard shoulders and stop more motorway deaths.”

The MPs called for the DfT and roads operator National Highways to reduce the distance between emergency refuge areas and commission a new study on the effectiveness of smart motorway technology.

They said no new smart motorways should be introduced until “five years of safety and economic data is available for every all-lane running scheme introduced before 2020”.