Smart motorways 'putting thousands of lives at risk' as campaigners demand urgent law changes

Smart motorways 'putting thousands of lives at risk' as campaigners demand urgent law changes

Claire Mercer has slammed the use of smart motorways

Felix Reeves

By Felix Reeves

Published: 19/01/2024

- 10:23

'Too many lives are being turned upside down and families being torn apart because of collisions and deaths on smart motorways'

Campaigners are calling for the hard shoulder to be reinstated on smart motorways amid claims the Government has dragged its feet on the issue and put “thousands of lives at risk”.

Lawyers representing the family of Jason Mercer, who was killed on a smart motorway near Sheffield in 2019, have criticised the Government for taking longer than eight weeks to acknowledge calls to reintroduce the hard shoulder on smart motorways.

The law firm, Irwin Mitchell, has called on ministers to introduce an official policy to immediately reinstate the hard shoulder on all lanes running (ALR) smart motorways or face a potential judicial review in the High Court.

Campaigners, including Jason Mercer’s wife Claire, are demanding that smart motorways be turned into controlled motorways that have three or more lanes with variable speed limits but retain a traditional hard shoulder.

Do you have a story you'd like to share? Get in touch by

Claire Mercer and a smart motorway

Claire Mercer said her campaigning had received 'tremendous support'


In April 2023, the Government announced that all new smart motorways would be scrapped due to a lack of confidence from drivers and financial pressures.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that all drivers deserved to feel safe on the roads and he was following through with his pledge to stop building smart motorways.

Irwin Mitchell has stated that the Government and National Highways took more than eight weeks to reply to their initial letter which was sent in October 2023.

It is now expected that a final response will be published by the end of April 2024 – five months after the initial reply.

Claire Mercer has accused the Government of using “stalling tactics” and not showing “common decency”. She also warned that the lack of policy change was “putting thousands of lives at risk”.

She added: “As time passes the pain of losing Jason doesn’t ease but more information about the lack of safety on ALRs continues to come to light.

“For several years there’s been too many stories of how people have been killed or seriously injured on these roads and stories of families being torn apart.

“The Smart Motorways Kill group continues to receive tremendous support from the public in its never-ending efforts to make the Department for Transport and National Highways accept that ALR smart motorways are dangerous - something already accepted by the Prime Minister who has scrapped all future smart motorways.

"I’m not going to stand for these stalling tactics which show a lack of common decency and continue to put thousands of lives at risk."

Claire’s husband Jason, 44, and 22-year-old Alexandru Murgreanu were involved in a minor collision on the northbound stretch of the M1, with both drivers pulling over to the roadside as far as possible.

A lorry then crashed into the two men because the ALR had not closed the lane until after the second, fatal collision. A coroner said ALRs carried "an ongoing risk of future deaths”.

Jason Mercer

Jason Mercer was killed in 2019


Helen Smith, a specialist smart motorways lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Too many lives are being turned upside down and families being torn apart because of collisions and deaths on smart motorways.

“Coroners, the Transport Select Committee, an independent road safety expert and even the Prime Minister have all also expressed real concerns about the safety of ALRs.

“Despite this, transport bosses and the Government continue to drag their heels on taking decisive action to reinstate the hard shoulder and to prioritise the safety of road users. This is despite us providing them with compelling evidence regarding safety concerns.

“Jason’s family believe that there ought to be a new policy decision for the immediate reinstatement of the hard shoulder on all ALRs, with the conversion of those schemes to controlled motorways.”


Claire Mercer

Claire Mercer has accused the Government of using 'stalling tactics'


A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “This was a tragic incident, and our thoughts continue to be with Jason’s family for their loss.

“The Government has already cancelled plans for all new smart motorway schemes, recognising public concerns. Working with National Highways, we are investing £900million in further safety improvements on existing smart motorways.”

National Highways’ third annual progress report included the safety evidence (2017 to 2021), which it said continues to show that overall, all three types of smart motorways are safer than conventional motorways in terms of deaths or serious injuries.

National Highways Chief Executive, Nick Harris, said at the time: “Safety is our highest priority and we are committed to further improving all lane running motorways.

"We have completed key upgrades to improve the performance of technology to detect stopped vehicles, and today we have set out the next sections of motorway to benefit from the programme to install more than 150 extra emergency areas to give drivers added reassurance. We are also continuing to invest £105million to improve the resilience of our operational technology systems.”

You may like