The grieving widow of a Yorkshire man killed on the M1 has launched a High Court legal challenge calling for 'smart' motorways to be scrapped
Claire Mercer’s husband Jason, 44, from Rotherham and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, from Mansfield, both died last June when they were hit by a lorry after pulling over following a collision on the northbound M1 between Junction 34 for Meadowhall and 35 for Thorpe Hesley.
The stretch of road in question is currently classed as an ‘all lanes running’ (ALR) motorway, meaning there is no hard shoulder in operation. Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu had pulled over as far as they could to exchange details.
However, after they left their vehicles a lorry collided with the pair. They were pronounced dead at the scene.
Their deaths mean that five people have died on that route in the past year.
Mrs Mercer now wants a stop to the hard shoulder being turned into a normal lane on the country’s motorways and has instructed Irwin Mitchell Solicitors to investigate bringing a legal case against Highways England calling for the use of smart motorways to be halted.
Mrs Mercer,43, said: “I fell to the floor when I was told that Jason had died and don’t know if I will ever be able to come to terms with his death. He was a truly wonderful man and our entire family is still trying to comprehend how this happened.
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“Because this section of motorway is ALR there was no hard shoulder and they were not to know the nearest emergency refuge area was out of sight, a mile away.
“Anyone can be involved in a collision or anyone can break down. Sometimes these are just unavoidable. Each time you travel on an ALR it’s like playing Russian roulette with your life. You could be the best driver in the world but if you break down you’re just a sitting duck.
“The technology provided in this stretch of motorway and indeed in over 80 per cent of all 'smart motorways' is not capable of detecting when only a few cars stop in live lanes, so the lane wasn't closed until six minutes after Jason and Alexandru had been knocked down.
“That Jason is among a number of people to have died shows that more needs to be done. I hope people help me save lives by helping to fund my legal challenge.”
A 16 mile stretch of the M1 between junction 32 – the M18 - and junction 35a, near Meadowhall, is classed as all lanes running smart motorway.
The hard shoulder has been replaced with emergency refuges which are said to be based around a mile apart, though in some areas it is thought that the availability of emergency refuges is far less than this.
Overhead signs indicate the speed limit and whether a lane is closed.
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Mrs Mercer has also launched a crowdfunding appeal as part of her campaign and is hoping to raise £20,000 to support the legal challenge.
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner has also raised concerns about smart motorways, while Mrs Mercer's MP, Sarah Champion will once again raise the issue in Parliament on Wednesday.
Mrs Mercer said: “Smart motorways and ALRs in particular are clearly very dangerous and something needs to be done.
“Jason was an amazing, multi-faceted man who stood out in a crowd. He believed in equality and he fought to defend his and other rights. He loved all types of music from classical to heavy metal.
“He worked hard, drank knowledge in like a sponge and defined his worth by his ability to look after me and others. My family, his sister’s family and I have lost an absolute diamond, in the cruellest manner.
“The only thing that helps us while we try to come to terms with this loss, is trying to stop the same happening to others.
“I cannot thank enough those who have supported the campaign. It has made a real difference and increased our belief that the use of smart motorways should be stopped.”
Read more: Pressure increases on smart motorway programme as two-thirds of drivers raise safety concerns
Mrs Mercer's legal team is now preparing detailed evidence an aim to officially commence the legal process in the coming weeks.
Helen Smith, a specialist public law and human rights solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Claire has suffered a truly unspeakable loss in recent months and is understandably determined to gain answers regarding how Jason’s death could have happened.
“The safety of smart motorways which operate without a hard shoulder has been called into question on a number of occasions in recent years and the number of fatalities on such routes both locally and nationwide is a major cause for concern.
“In fact the Transport Select Committee has previously published a report warning that the government should not go ahead with ‘all lane running’ motorways because they posed a dangerous risk to drivers and emergency services.
“Through our initial investigations and the increasing amount of families which have been torn apart because of fatalities on smart motorways, it is clear that a full and urgent review of their use needs to be completed.
“We are determined to do everything we can to support Claire and other families who have been affected by the use of smart motorways. We hope that people are able to back her campaign as she looks to take this legal action forward.”