'I will sue' if Highways England do not bring back hard shoulders to 'death trap' smart motorways, says widow of Rotherham man killed on M1

The widow of a Rotherham man 'unlawfully' killed on a smart motorway has vowed to sue Highways England unless they bring back the hard shoulder to the stretches of road.

Claire Mercer, whose late husband Jason was killed on a smart motorway
Claire Mercer, whose late husband Jason was killed on a smart motorway

Claire Mercer did not even know what a smart motorway was until her husband Jason, 44, and another motorist were killed on one on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield in June 2019.

Mr Mercer and 22-year-old Alexandru Murgeanu died instantly when they were hit by an oncoming lorry after pulling over onto the hard shoulder - which was being used as a live lane in accordance with the scheme at the time - to exchange insurance details after a minor collision.

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A coroner on Monday ruled that their deaths had been unlawful and, in a damning indictment of the scheme which was brought in to ease congestion and reduce overall casualties, proposed to write to Highways England and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps over the hazards smart motorways pose.

Claire and Jason Mercer

Mrs Mercer, 44, said "more people will die" unless radical changes are made to ensure there is always a hard shoulder along any given stretch of motorway, be it a smart motorway or otherwise.

She added that reinstating the hard shoulder would mean emergency vehicles could safely access people injured in serious collisions and prevent lives from being lost.

"I remember vividly having to ring Alexandru Murgeanu's sister in Romania and explain to her that our Government had changed our roads and didn't tell us how to use them," she said.

Mrs Mercer is now a vocal campaigner against smart motorways, having quit her job in order to take on her Smart Motorways Kill campaign.

Smart motorways see the opening of hard shoulders as live lanes to reduce congestion with designated refuge areas for emergencies

She was heard to break down in tears on Monday as coroner David Urpeth delivered his verdict, saying smart motorways presented "an ongoing risk of future deaths”.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mrs Mercer said: "I will accept an information campaign and more measures on how to use these roads. But the only thing I will accept is the bringing the hard shoulder back."

Two senior officials from Highways England questioned at Monday's inquest told the hearing that smart motorways were, overall, safer to use but conceded that the removal of the hard shoulder presented hazards and contributed to the deaths of Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu.

A spokesman for the authority said: “We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of Alexandru Murgeanu and Jason Mercer. We recognise this continues to be an incredibly difficult time for them.

Claire Mercer outside Sheffield Town Hall for the inquest of late husband Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu

“Every road death is a tragic loss of life. We are determined to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible and are already addressing many of the points raised today by the coroner as published in the Government’s Smart Motorway Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan of March 2020. We will carefully consider any further comments raised by the coroner once we receive the report.”

"I really feel that, given the coroner's verdict, we can finally look to pushing for an investigation into corporate manslaughter," Mrs Mercer continued.

"I am not going to give up and go away until changes are brought in."

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