Widow of M1 victim says smart motorway bosses "still haven't learnt lessons" as new Junction 34 camera failures revealed

The widow of a man killed on a crash on a ‘smart motorway’ section of the M1 in South Yorkshire after technology failures says highways bosses “still haven’t learnt their lessons” after a new investigation found a quarter of the cameras on the stretch of the road where he died were either broken, obscured or facing the wrong way.

Widow Claire Mercer arrives at Sheffield Town Hall for the inquest into the deaths of her husband, Jason Mercer, and Alexandru Murgeanu, in January.

An investigation by the Daily Mail found four of 16 cameras on the motorway were not working as they should along Junction 34 of the M1 on the outskirts of Sheffield this month.

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason Mercer was killed alongside another man on that area of road in 2019, told the Today programme she was shocked by the continuing failures. “Two years after a particularly horrific incident, they still haven’t learnt any lessons,” she said.

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Mr Mercer died along with another motorist, Alexandru Murgeanu, when a lorry ploughed into them in June 2019 after the pair had stopped following a minor collision between both of their cars.

Claire and Jason Mercer.

At an inquest into their deaths in January, Sheffield coroner David Urpeth warned: “I believe that smart motorways, as things currently stand, present an ongoing risk of future deaths.”

Daily Mail reporter Susie Coen spent six weeks working undercover in a National Highways control centre and carried out an audit of smart motorway cameras on September 17 using the organisation’s internal systems.

Across the country, it found 112 out of 804 were either broken, obscured or facing the wrong way. The reporter viewed each video stream and logged what she saw, including the identifying camera number and location, in a spreadsheet.

National Highways said it did not recognise the data from the paper’s audit. It said cameras overlapped, meaning if one is faulty, another will be able to monitor a road. But chief executive Nick Harris said the allegations would be investigated “as a matter of urgency”.

Mrs Mercer said of the incident that killed her husband: “They tried to get as far out as the live running lane as they could, but they were hemmed in by a crash barrier. They couldn’t get over the crash barrier, because there was a 30 foot drop on to the slip road below.

“They did what they could and got out their vehicles to swap details. As they were swapping details, a lorry that couldn’t move in time ploughed into them, killing them instantly.

"Even after they were killed, the technology didn’t work - it took the public phoning to say, ‘For the love of God, close the motorway’. It was utter carnage across four lanes but the technology did not pick it up.

“This proves you need the hard shoulder back in every single instance. You just need a hard shoulder - it doesn’t rely on software programmes and control rooms full of extremely busy people that are under so much pressure that they don’t even monitor the cameras.”

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said: “We recognise concerns continue to be raised about smart motorways. These upgrades work as a system, with technology, infrastructure and people working together, and data shows fatalities are less likely than on conventional motorways.

"If there is a problem with any one part of the system, other parts are activated to help keep traffic moving safely.

"Our traffic officers work around the clock, every day of the year to help drivers and deal with incidents. We are, however, investigating these allegations as a matter of urgency.”

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