The widow of a man killed on a smart motorway questioned why 100 miles of them would still be completed amid growing safety fears – asking ‘if something is dangerous, surely you isolate it?’.
Ministers last night halted the rollout of 120 miles of the roads after 24 deaths and scores of accidents and a recommendation by Commons Transport Select Committee.
But the decision to still carry on with a huge amount of the project – because it was over 50 per cent finished – was greeted with confusion.
In a November 2 report, the committee described the Government’s decision in March 2020 that all future smart motorways would be all-lane-running versions as ‘premature’.
Concerns have been raised following fatal incidents involving broken-down vehicles being hit from behind due to a lack of a hard shoulder.
Claire Mercer blames smart motorways for her husband Jason’s death in June 2019 when a lorry hit him on the M1 where the hard shoulder had been turned into a live lane.
She told Radio 4 this morning the pause did not go far enough, adding: ‘They could have just flicked the switch and closed the first lane on every single instance but instead they are going to pause the roll out of new Smart Motorways but only the ones that are less than 50 per cent completed.
Claire Mercer pictured at the smart motorway spot where her husband Jason Mercer was killed
Claire Mercer’s husband died on a smart motorway after being hit by a lorry in a road crash
The crash that killed Mr Mercer, picture shows van of second victim Alexandru Murgeanu, 22
The smart motorway network so far with the areas that will be completed despite the pause
‘It’s some small good news, but it’s not enough.
‘The hard shoulder should be back in every single case.
‘If you think something is dangerous you isolate it while you investigate it.’
A blame game also emerged this morning as the committee behind the critical report suggested National Highways had made assurances that were not delivered.
Chairman of Transport Select Committee and MP for Bexhill and Battle Huw Merriman told the BBC: ‘I think there has been a complete system failure in terms of some of the assurances not delivered.
‘The previous regime of National Highways, there is now a new broom there.
‘We were given assurances we would have the stopped vehicle detection technology which would stop the lane in a minute and that would be brought in and retrofitted.
‘It hasn’t been, in 2019 only 20 per cent of smart motorways had that feature there.
Mrs Mercer (pictured) said she thought the select committee report and the Government’s response were a ‘disappointment’ and agreed they were missed opportunities
CAMPAIGNER WHOSE YOUNG SON DIED ON SMART MOTORWAY WELCOMES ROLLOUT PAUSE
A mother who lost her son in a collision has said she welcomes a pause in the smart motorway rollout but has vowed to continue campaigning until there are zero deaths on the roads.
Meera Naran said the halted expansion would give time to ‘reassess’ the smart motorway network and the network ‘as a whole’ as there are ‘risks and benefits’ to both smart motorways and conventional motorways with hard shoulders.
Her eight-year-old son Dev died on a hard shoulder after a lorry struck his grandfather’s Toyota Yaris on the M6 in May 2018.
Since his death, she has campaigned in his memory and was awarded an MBE in June last year for her services to road safety.
Ms Naran told the PA news agency: ‘I welcome the pause in the rollout of smart motorways, I think it’s going to give us time to reassess the smart motorway network, also reassess the network as a whole.
‘There are risks with smart roadways and benefits as well, but there are also risks and benefits with conventional motorways with hard shoulders and I think it’ll give us a real opportunity to look at both.’
Becoming emotional as she spoke about her son, she added: ‘We always believed in making change for the good. That was always our motto and it continues to be my motto.
‘I campaign in Dev’s memory and his name. He wanted to be a doctor and save lives and I’m campaigning for road safety and I only can hope and pray it will also save lives as well.’
The Department for Transport has also committed £900 million on existing all-lane-running (ALR) motorways, including £390 million to install 150 more emergency areas.
The university lecturer said she was pleased to see the commitment to the emergency refuge areas, as she has been campaigning for that since day one, and the additional technology which detects stopped vehicles.
‘In addition to that, I have proposed some additional changes,’ she said.
‘One being a change in legislation around autonomous emergency braking, which is also called AEB, and I’ve also proposed for that to be called Dev’s Law.
‘With the autonomous emergency braking system, that would save so many lives going forward. This is not just about smart motorways anymore, it’s about all roads and every life matters on our roads.
‘I will not see a victory until we have zero deaths on our roads. Whether that (means) I campaign for the rest of my life, so be it.’
Responding to the £900 million pledge, she said: ‘It’s been incredibly emotional losing Dev, it’s so hard. There’s no words to ever explain how that feels. Campaigning through grief is no easy task either.
‘However, in 2020 when I proposed 19 policy changes, there was some reassurance with the 18-point action plan, which implemented 18 out of my 19 proposals with a £500 million commitment.
‘To see this additional amount being added to a total of nearly £900 million is absolutely welcome and I think it’s really reassuring.’
‘It seemed to us that assurances were being given but there was a real dash to deliver this rather than listening to warnings and making the safety improvements which should have been in place.
‘I am afraid there has been a bit of a tin-eared syndrome that has gone on previously with the agency but it seems to be changing.’
MailOnline has contacted National Highways for a response to the comments.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said £390million would be spent on building 150 extra emergency laybys on current smart motorways so drivers whose vehicles have broken down don’t have to stop in live traffic.
It will boost the number of laybys on them by about 50 per cent and mean they are no more than a mile apart.
The Government has pledged to improve safety on existing all-lane-running motorways, but relatives of people who have died on the roads have urged ministers to go further by reinstating the hard shoulder.
Mr Shapps said he was adopting the report’s recommendations in full.
Projects planned for the M3, M40, M62 and M25 will be put on hold and others already underway will continue until complete.
Technology used to spot stranded cars will also be tested more rigorously.
Mr Shapps said: ‘While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.
‘Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multimillion-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps.’
The conversion of seven dynamic hard shoulder motorways, where the hard shoulder is open at busy times, to all-lane-running motorways is also being paused, while alternative ways of operating them are being examined.
But despite halting the construction of 120 miles of ‘all-lane-running’ (ALR) smart motorway – in which the hard shoulder is replaced with a lane in permanent use, a further 100 miles will go ahead because these stretches are more than 50 per cent complete and it was deemed safer to finish them.
The 120 miles will be paused until April 2024 so five years of safety data can be collected from more than 200 miles of schemes before a decision is made on whether it is safe to roll out new ALR roads.
The delayed schemes are made up of stretches totalling 60 miles on each carriageway.
Mr Shapps also agreed to consider letting the Office of Rail and Road sign off all new roads on health and safety grounds.
The watchdog will also review radar technology meant to detect vehicles marooned in live lanes within 20 seconds. Officials claim it isn’t effective.
He will also re-evaluate dynamic hard shoulder and controlled motorways. The former have a hard shoulder used as a live line intermittently, while the latter retain a hard shoulder but use variable speed limits.
AA president Edmund King said: ‘At last we have a Transport Secretary who has taken a positive and pragmatic approach.’
But he added: ‘The AA view remains that controlled motorways with a hard shoulder are the safest option.’
Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of roads policy, said the decision was ‘an unqualified victory for drivers’.
Mrs Mercer, from Rotherham, said yesterday 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.
Tory MP Karl McCartney (pictured), who sits on the transport committee, said hard shoulders should be reinstated, adding: ‘The report did not go far enough. Hard shoulders are there for a reason’
Mr Shapps rejected reinstating hard shoulders, insisting it would lead to more deaths by pushing up to 25 per cent of traffic on to dangerous smaller roads. Pictured: A smart motorway
‘It’s never needed any of these reviews, any of these investigations,’ she said.
‘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.’
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: ‘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.
Her comments were echoed by Conservative MP Sir Mike Penning who claims he was misled when he supported the rollout of smart motorways in his role as roads minister from 2010-2012.
He said: ‘It seems illogical to me to decide to pause the rollout of new all-lane-running (ALR) sections on the basis that more safety data is needed but to allow existing ALR sections to continue to operate.
‘Surely, the existing sections should be rapidly reconfigured to keep the left-hand lane as a kind of hard shoulder.’
Tory MP Karl McCartney, who sits on the transport committee, said hard shoulders should be reinstated, adding: ‘The report did not go far enough. Hard shoulders are there for a reason.’
Fellow committee member Greg Smith said: ‘I’m deeply sceptical of the safety of all-lane running and so-called smart motorways.
‘Roads must be safe, and I just don’t see how all lane running possibly can be.’
Former roads minister Sir Mike Penning said: ‘The Government has not gone far enough.
‘It seems illogical to pause the rollout of new ALR sections on the basis that more safety data is needed, but allow existing sections to operate.
‘Either we are happy that ALR is safe or we’re not.’
But Mr Shapps rejected reinstating hard shoulders, insisting it would lead to more deaths by pushing up to 25 per cent of traffic on to dangerous smaller roads.
He pointed out that the transport committee had not called for hard shoulders to be reinstated.
He told the Mail: ‘There will be campaigners who say ‘No, no, no, just go back to reinstating the hard shoulder,’ but the committee didn’t think that was a good idea.
‘Although people think they’re safe, they’re not.
‘One in 12 fatalities take place on the hard shoulder.’
He acknowledged, however, the data was ‘incomplete’ on whether ALR motorways were safe.
He said: ‘We don’t have enough, so we will pause for five years’ data as per the committee request and then be able to reassess it.’
Smart motorways were first introduced in England in 2014 as a cheaper way of increasing capacity compared with widening carriageways.
There are about 375 miles of smart motorway in England, including 235 miles without a hard shoulder.