For pity’s sake end the death traps: CLAIRE MERCER is photographed at the spot where her husband was killed on a smart motorway… and incredibly, seconds after this image was taken, she witnessed ANOTHER smash
Last Friday, when I posed for the photograph that accompanies this article at the bridge overlooking the junction on the M1 where my husband Jason was killed, I heard from behind me a sickening thud. It was a collision between a car and a lorry on the other side of the road.
A lorry had slammed into a car and dragged it hundreds of yards down the carriageway. I was in shock: my own husband, after all, had died on the opposite side of the same stretch of road.
Could there possibly have been a more visceral and painful reminder of how dangerous the craze for smart motorways has become?
Motorways are always dangerous and unpredictable: they need a dedicated, protected space where drivers can shelter from the hazards around them, especially after a minor accident or a breakdown.
Last Friday, when I posed for the photograph that accompanies this article at the bridge overlooking the junction on the M1 where my husband Jason was killed, I heard from behind me a sickening thud. It was a collision between a car and a lorry on the other side of the road
This should be obvious but for too long, ministers have tried to bury their heads in the sand over the issue.
That is why the Mail’s seminal undercover investigation, published today, is so important.
The ‘smart’ motorway – lauded by government and road bosses alike as both efficient and safe – is literally lethal and riddled with ongoing, deeply serious failures.
As the Mail reveals today, many cameras are either broken, faulty or simply not monitored, leaving motorists who have broken down or stopped for any reason stranded in deadly high-speed traffic.
Staggeringly, one in ten cameras was found to be faulty out of more than 800 devices nationwide.
Worse still, almost half the cameras on one of the busiest sections of the M25 – where three deaths have been attributed to smart motorways – were faulty. On the day of the audit, one in four cameras was broken on the stretch of the M1 near Sheffield where Jason died.
Pictured: Jason Mercer who was killed on the M1 smart motorway on 7 June 2019
Scene picture on the M1 motorway at junction 34 where a crash has happened on 24 September near to the spot where Jason Mercer was killed on the smart motorway on 7 June 2019
Overall, the toll speaks for itself: figures from Highways England [now known as National Highways] show that between 2015 and 2019, 39 people died on smart motorways.
But behind each of those numbers are individual tragedies, as I know all too well. On June 7, 2019, a few minutes after we ate breakfast together, Jason was driving north on the M1 between junctions 34 and 35 when he changed lanes and suffered a minor collision with a Ford Transit van.
As is required by law, my husband pulled over to exchange insurance details with the other driver – a 22-year-old delivery worker from Romania called Alexandru Murgeanu.
Except there was nowhere to go. In 2016, that stretch of the M1 had been converted into an all- lane-running ‘smart’ motorway, meaning the hard shoulder was open to traffic.
On camera footage, Jason and Alexandru can be seen driving on, trying to find somewhere safe to stop, before finally pulling up as closely as they could to the safety barrier near a gantry with a traffic camera.
The inquest into their deaths would later reveal that the camera wasn’t monitored and the lane remained open.
Hemmed in by the crash barrier – behind which was a 30-foot drop – motorists swerved to avoid Jason and Alexandru, but six minutes after they pulled over, Prezemyslaw Szuba, a Polish lorry driver, failed to notice in enough time to manoeuvre into a different lane. Instead, he ploughed into the back of Alexandru’s van, killing them instantly.
I knew Jason was dead the moment I saw police officers draw up in their patrol car some hours later. I remember dropping to the floor, shaking with shock.
Jason died because of the smart motorway: that was the verdict of the coroner at his inquest who, while recording the primary cause of death as Szuba’s careless driving, stated that the lack of hard shoulder contributed to the tragedy and that smart motorways presented an ongoing risk of future deaths.
Following the inquest, I launched a campaign to highlight the failures and dangers of smart motorways and am bringing a judicial review against the Government. Highways England is now being investigated for corporate manslaughter.
Szuba was jailed for ten months for Jason and Alexandru’s death, but I believe he was wrongly imprisoned. If Highways England hadn’t removed the hard shoulder, the lorry driver would have been in a different lane and the collision would never have happened.
Now, two years on from the coroner’s stark warning, the Mail’s damning dossier lays bare in terrifying detail the ongoing risks of smart motorways.
They are risks that affect us all. What happened to my husband and Alexandru wasn’t an unusual, cataclysmic series of circumstances – it could happen at any time, to anyone.
How many more people have to die before ministers see sense and end the smart motorway madness?
Claire is arranging a march and protest on November 1 in Westminster. Visit facebook.com/smartmotorwayskill or smartmotorwayskill.co.uk for more information
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