The widow of a driver who was killed on a “smart motorway” after a lorry crashed into his car is to sue Highways England for corporate manslaughter.
Speaking of her decision to take legal action against the Government-owned organisation, Claire Mercer predicted more deaths would occur if drivers continue to be “robbed” of safe places to pull over on the motorway.
Her husband, Jason Mercer, 44, and another driver, Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, both died in June this year following a minor collision on the northbound M1 near Sheffield. There was no nearby lay-by and the drivers had pulled over by a barrier to exchange insurance details when the lorry hit their vehicles.
The hard shoulder had been transformed into a live lane, leaving the men stranded and exposed to oncoming traffic.
What are smart motorways?
So-called “smart motorways” were introduced by Highways England to help relieve congestion by making the hard shoulder available for use by traffic. On some roads the hard shoulder is opened at busy times while on others it is permanently converted into a traffic lane. Technology is used on these stretches of road to monitor traffic levels, change the speed limit, activate warning signs to alert motorists to congestion and hazards, and close lanes.
‘Anything but smart’
But Ms Mercer has accused Highways England of neglecting to provide her husband and Mr Murgeanu with a safe place to stop and failing to implement adequate systems to detect a stationary vehicle to close a lane off from fast-moving traffic.
“Jason and Alexandru’s deaths proves these motorways are anything but smart,” she told The Sunday Telegraph.
“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.”
Creating more is ‘madness’
Ms Mercer is now seeking a judicial review to prove Highway England’s decision to remove the hard shoulder without providing adequate protection was a breach of the company’s duty to make motorways safer.
She also claimed Highways England and the Government were in the grip of “collective madness” after they announced their intention to nearly double the smart motorway network from 416 to 788 miles by 2025.
Highways England said it would not comment on the circumstances surrounding Mr Mercer’s death because a police investigation was still underway.