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Smart motorway ‘stalling’ is putting lives at risk says widow after husband’s tragic death | UK | News


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The Government has been accused of “stalling” over demands to reintroduce hard shoulders on so-called smart motorways by the widow of a man killed in a tragic accident five years ago.

Claire Mercer, 44, has vowed “never to rest” until new safety rules are in place, describing the length of time it was taking to receive a response to her demands as “disgusting”.

Campaigners are angry at both the Government and National Highways for taking more than eight weeks to acknowledge their request – and then asking for another five months to respond.

Ms Mercer’s husband, Jason, 44, of Broom, Rotherham, and Alexandru Murgreanu, 22, of Mansfield, were killed in June 2019, after both were knocked down by a lorry.

Minutes earlier, Mr Mercer and Mr Murgreanu had been involved in a minor collision on a northbound stretch of the M1, classified an all lane running (ALR) or smart motorway near Meadowhall in South Yorkshire.

The pair had pulled over to the roadside as far as possible – but the lane was not closed to traffic until after the second, fatal collision.

After Mr Mercer’s death his widow, together with others, launched the Smart Motorways Kill group which campaigns to scrap the roads.

She said: “As time passes the pain of losing Jason doesn’t ease but more information about the lack of safety on ALRs continues to come to light.

“For several years there’s been too many stories of how people have been killed or seriously injured on these roads and stories of families being torn apart.”

“I’m not going to stand for these stalling tactics which show a lack of common decency and continue to put thousands of lives at risk.

“I won’t rest until the hard shoulder has been returned. The government and National Highways need to pull their fingers out and treat this request with the seriousness it deserves. Otherwise, if it means legal action, then that’s something I’m prepared to do.”

Mr Mercer’s family wants the roads to be turned into controlled motorways – roads which have three or more lanes with variable speed limits but retain a traditional hard shoulder, unlike ALRs.

Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, who are representing Mr Mercer’s relatives, last year wrote to the Government and National Highways citing “compelling evidence regarding safety concerns”.

The Smart Motorways Kill group continued to receive widespread public support in its mission to persuade both the Department for Transport and National Highways to accept that ALR smart motorways were “dangerous” Ms Mercer stressed – a fact she pointed out was already accepted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who announced last April that he was scrapping all future projects.

She continued: “The £900billion saved by scrapping future ALR schemes more than pays for the restoration of hard shoulders to provide motorway users with the safest possible environment – putting people first.

“I believe that for many years, the government continued to remove hard shoulders from motorways while arrogantly ignoring the overwhelming public view that motorways without hard shoulders are dangerous and that the policy has resulted in many unnecessary deaths and serious injuries.”

Turning her attention to the delay, Ms Mercer added: “That the government and National Highways not only failed to respond to the initial letter within an acceptable time, but then expect an additional five months on top by which to respond, is disgusting.”

They have called on ministers to introduce official policy which will see the immediate reinstatement of the hard shoulder on ALR smart motorways or face a potential judicial review in the High Court.

The Government and National Highways took more than eight weeks to reply to the letter and both said they expected to be able to provide a final response by the end of April 2024 – five months after their initial reply and almost seven months after Irwin Mitchell wrote to them on October 4, 2023.

At an inquest into the deaths of Mr Mercer and Mr Alexandru, coroner David Urpeth said ALRs carried “an ongoing risk of future deaths”. Mr Mercer was found not to have been at fault and it was found that he was placed at risk of serious injury or death when he had to stop.

The coroner heard evidence from representatives from what was then Highways England, now National Highways, and issued a prevention of future deaths report saying there was an “obvious and foreseeable risk posed by the absence of a hard shoulder on smart motorways”.

An independent expert report commissioned by Irwin Mitchell into smart motorways in 2021 found ALRs “had the lowest level of intrinsic safety” when compared to any other form of motorway.

Express.co.uk has approached the Department for Transport for comment.

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