The widow of a man killed on the M1 is suing Highways England, claiming the ‘smart’ motorway system is directly responsible for his death.
“Removing the hard shoulder robbed my husband… of a safe refuge,” Mrs Mercer told the Sunday Telegraph.
“Police told me the lane was not closed after they became stranded. If it had been, they would be alive today.
“Two people died that day. Two families have been utterly devastated because the hard shoulder had been turned into a live lane. It’s that simple.”
Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu were hit by a lorry on the M1, having pulled over to exchange insurance details following a prang.
Mrs Mercer wants to prove that Highways England’s removal of permanent hard shoulders without constant protection for stopped drivers is a breach of the organisation’s duty to make motorways safer. If successful, Highways England will technically be guilty of corporate manslaughter.
These aren’t the only deaths of this kind to have occurred on this stretch of the M1, between Woodall services and Meadowhall. In the past year, two other drivers were lost in similar circumstances.
The issue with ‘smart’ motorways
Smart motorways work by effectively turning hard shoulder sections into live lanes, only shutting them and turning specific sections into a hard shoulder when needed.
This is done via the use of light-up gantries that display a red ‘X’ over lanes that are blocked, to let people know not to drive in them.
In this case, the lane was potentially not closed in time. Indeed, it’s reported that CCTV operators take an average of 20 minutes to spot stranded or stopped vehicles.
Highways England plans to make 788 miles of motorway ‘smart’ by 2025, compared with the 416 there are today.