Smart motorway death widow hits out at Government over ‘stalling tactics’

Claire Mercer wants hard shoulders to be reinstated on all smart motorways.

Neil Lancefield
Thursday 18 January 2024 20:21 GMT
A emergency refuge area on a smart motorway Steve Parsons/PA)
A emergency refuge area on a smart motorway Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)

The widow of a man killed on a smart motorway has hit out at the Government over delays in responding to calls for the hard shoulder to be reintroduced on all the roads.

Claire Mercer accused the Department for Transport (DfT) of using “stalling tactics” and demonstrating a “lack of common decency”.

Her husband Jason died when he was struck by a lorry after stopping on the M1 near Sheffield in June 2019.

I’m not going to stand for these stalling tactics

Claire Mercer

Law firm Irwin Mitchell, representing his family, said it wrote to the Government and National Highways in October last year outlining “compelling evidence regarding safety concerns” for why hard shoulders should be reinstated on all-lane running (ALR) smart motorways, where the emergency lanes have been converted into live running lanes to boost capacity.

It said it took more than eight weeks to receive a reply, and was told a final response would be provided by the end of April 2024.

The DfT said it replied to the firm acknowledging the letter within a week, and provided a more substantive response within four weeks explaining why it needed more time to provide a full answer.

Ms Mercer said: “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.

“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.

“We’ve spent the past four years providing evidence of how unsafe all-lane running smart motorways are.

“They have been aware of the safety concerns throughout this time so their continued delays in taking action will result in more peoples’ lives being put 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.”

In April last year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the cancellation of planned projects to build ALR smart motorways.

He said this was due to cost pressures and a lack of confidence among some road users.

But he has refused to reinstate the hard shoulder on existing smart motorways.

Helen Smith, smart motorways lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Transport bosses and the Government continue to drag their heels on taking decisive action to reinstate the hard shoulder and to prioritise the safety of road users.

“This is despite us providing them with compelling evidence regarding safety concerns.

“We believe that the continued avoidance of National Highways and the Government to re-evaluate existing ALR smart motorways represents an unreasonable and negligent approach to the safety of road users.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “This was a tragic incident, and our thoughts continue to be with Jason’s family for their loss.

“The Government has already cancelled plans for all new smart motorway schemes, recognising public concerns. Working with National Highways, we are investing £900 million in further safety improvements on existing smart motorways.”

A National Highways report published last month revealed that smart motorways without a hard shoulder are three times more dangerous to break down than those with an emergency lane.

The number of people killed or seriously injured after a stopped vehicle was hit by a moving vehicle was 0.21 per 100 million vehicle miles travelled on ALR smart motorways between 2017 and 2021.

That compares with rates of 0.07 on controlled smart motorways, which have variable speed limits but retain a hard shoulder, and 0.10 on conventional motorways.

National Highways said at the time that evidence shows all types of smart motorways are safer than conventional motorways in terms of deaths or serious injuries, and a series of safety improvements have been made since 2021.

It also announced that extra emergency stopping areas will be installed on 11 smart motorway sections as part of a £900 million investment aimed at improving the network by 2025.

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