Campaigner who lost husband renews calls for immediate end to all-lane running

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A woman who has mounted a high-profile campaign to close down smart motorways since her husband was killed by a lorry has called for an immediate shutdown of the inside lanes on all existing stretches.

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason died on the M1 near Sheffield in June 2019, said Wednesday’s Government announcement was a “sticking plaster” and a missed opportunity, adding: “They’d take lots more steps a lot more quickly if it was their loved ones that were being killed or maimed.”

Mrs Mercer, from Rotherham, said policymakers did not need any further analysis to conclude that smart motorways were deadly and said transport secretary Grant Shapps needed to order all lane one running to be halted, effectively recreating hard shoulders.

Smart motorways death protest
Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason was killed on a section of smart motorway (Danny Lawson/PA)

“It didn’t work. It killed people. They need to stop killing people.”

Mrs Mercer said she welcomed the pause, but said it fell well short of her objective of a complete reversal of the smart motorway policy.

She said: “At least there will be marginally less casualties between now and then.”

But she added: “All they ever needed to do is flick a switch.

“I’m from an engineering background and if you think a machine is faulty you turn it off before you investigate it.

“We have had review after review after review into smart motorways and never once have they turned off the first lane while they investigate them.

“Just turn off lane one and you’ve got your hard shoulder back. You just need to thrown one switch at eight control centres and you’ve got your hard shoulder back immediately.”

Smart Motorways High Court legal challenge
Jason and Claire Mercer (Irwin Mitchell LLP)

Sheffield coroner David Urpeth told an inquest that “a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy” and that smart motorways “present an ongoing risk of future deaths”.

Mrs Mercer has said the wrong person had been jailed when lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba was given a 10-month sentence in 2020.

She said on Wednesday: “They just keep saying let’s talk about it.

“Stop sitting there talking about this while people are dying.

“It’s so easy to turn the first lane off while they investigate it and they’ve never wanted to do that.”

She said: “You just need to know that people are dying in situations where they weren’t dying before.

“They’ve drastically changed something and more people are dying.

“It’s a simple as… if you had to stop on a motorway, would you rather it was in a live running lane or on a hard shoulder?

“You don’t need lots of stats and analysis.”

Mrs Mercer said she thought the select committee report and the Government’s response were a “disappointment” and agreed they were missed opportunities.

She said: “There’s been missed opportunities every single day since they’ve realised they’ve done something wrong.”

And she added: “It’s all just compromises and sticking plasters. It’s not going to sort the situation. They’re just continuing to thrown good money after bad.”

Mrs Mercer said: “They’re under a lot of pressure from large private contractors to keep smart motorways going.”

She described the response as “tweak it a bit, change this, change that, but pretty much carry on”.

And asked if it was a missed opportunity, she said: “Definitely. There’s been missed opportunities every single day since they’ve realised they’ve done something wrong.”

Mrs Mercer is campaigning for a judicial review into smart motorways and she said she thought the main impact of Wednesday’s announcement was that it would force the Government to engage with this legal action.

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