'My husband was killed on a smart motorway in Yorkshire - now I want Highways England investigated'

A bereaved widow from Yorkshire is calling for Highways England to face criminal investigation over her husband's death on a smart motorway, after a report found it could have been avoided.

Claire and Jason Mercer

Jason Mercer was one of two people killed on an ALR section of the M1 in South Yorkshire in June last year.

Mr Mercer, 44, and 22-year-old Alexandru Murgeanu, had been in a minor collision near to junction 34 near to the Meadowhall shopping centre when they were hit by a lorry.

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The pair had pulled over as far as possible, however, the lane had not been closed to traffic until six minutes after the collision.

Jason Mercer, 44, was killed by a lorry after he was involved in a collision in a live lane on the M1 near Rotherham last year

A damning parliamentary report has now found the deaths, along with six others killed on all lane running motorways, could have been avoided with the use of technology to detect stationary vehicles.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Roadside Rescue and Recovery says the smart motorway roll out has "cost lives", with many wanting to see the plans halted.

Mr Mercer's widow Claire has now sought legal action against Highways England and is calling for police to investigate whether there are grounds for a case of corporate manslaughter.

Mrs Mercer, from Rotherham, also wants the use of smart motorways to be halted.

The M1 motorway near Sheffield

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"Ever since then I have been adamant that they are confusing, extremely dangerous and kill.

"To now hear that some of the deaths, possibly including Jason's, could have been avoided if promises had been kept is absolutely staggering."

Last year alone, nine people were killed on the smart motorway network, five of which were on the M1 near Sheffield.

Claire and Jason Mercer

She continued: "I'm lost for words as to how this could have been allowed to happen. Highways England should be made to explain its actions or lack of action and the police should investigate the agency for corporate manslaughter.

"However, this is not about punishing people. It's about stopping the use of smart motorways before there are more deaths and other families are left trying to pick up the pieces of losing a loved one in such a needless way."

Last November, the APPG launched a review into smart motorways.

Jason Mercer, 44, was killed by a lorry after he was involved in a collision in a live lane on the M1 near Rotherham last year

The figures were described as "completely unacceptable" and a "public policy failure", with chairman Sir Mike Penning saying the roll out had been conducted with a "shocking degree of carelessness".

Highways England has since claimed that the spacing of emergency refuges for broken down motorists to pull onto, which are less than 1.5 miles apart, has "no effect" - a claim which the report said was "unconvincing".

Helen Smith, human rights lawyer at Sheffield-based Irwin Mitchell, is representing Mrs Mercer.

She said: "As part of our investigations we are uncovering more information about smart motorways which supports the view of Claire, and other families who have suffered tragedies on such roads, in that they cost lives.

"This report and its extremely worrying findings only serve to strengthen that position.

"We are continuing to support Claire as we prepare a legal case on her behalf, so that roads can be made safer to drive on. In the meantime we share the concerns of the parliamentary report authors in that the use of smart motorways should be stopped at least until a full and accurate safety review of them is carried out and the results known."

A spokeswoman for Highways England said: “Any death on our roads is one too many, and our deepest sympathies remain with the family and friends of those who lost their lives. 

“The Transport Secretary has asked the Department for Transport to carry out, at pace, an evidence stock take to gather the facts about smart motorway safety. We are committed to safety and are supporting the Department in its work on this.”