Review of smart motorways announced after 'tragic' death of man

The smart motorway system at Hartshead in Calderdale
The smart motorway system at Hartshead in Calderdale

The death of a Yorkshire man on a “smart motorway” has prompted a review into their use after a passionate campaign by an MP.

There are two types of smart motorways in the UK. The first is where the hard shoulder is opened to traffic when it is busy.

The second is where the hard shoulder is open all the time.

It was on the latter, on the M1 near Sheffield, where Rotherham man Jason Mercer died in June.

He was involved in a minor crash but when he got out of his car to exchange details he and the other driver were hit by a lorry. Both died at the scene.

Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, during transport questions in the Commons today, said: “My constituent Jason Mercer is dead because of the Government's ill-conceived all lanes running motorway scheme on the M1. So will the minister please meet with me and Claire Mercer, his widow, to discuss exactly the safety implications of the scheme and to stop the rollout?”

Transport Minister George Freeman said he would meet with the pair but also said: “I'm delighted to confirm the Secretary of State will shortly be announcing a very short review in order that we can make sure that we deal with that problem quickly.”

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs "we know people are dying" on smart motorways but added greater detail is required on how safe they are compared to full motorways.

He insisted he wants to ensure all motorways in the country are "as safe as they possibly can be" and said the review could report within a matter of weeks.

His confirmation of the review comes after Highways England chief executive Jim O'Sullivan told the Transport Select Committee that smart motorways with a hard shoulder only used at busy times are "too complicated for people to use".

He said it will not build any more "dynamic" smart motorways because too many motorists do not understand them.

The design is already in use on parts of the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Shapps told MPs: "The House I know is very concerned about smart motorways.

"I've heard those concerns raised today and previously and I have asked my department to carry out at pace an evidence stocktake to gather the facts quickly and make recommendations."

Ms Champion said this was a “big win” and had earlier said she had “to try and stop the roll out of all lane running motorways, not least to honour the tragic death of Jason Mercer.”

She said Mrs Mercer was “absolutely delighted it’s going in the right direction” and Mr Shapps had indicated he wanted the data Ms Champion had been trying to obtain.

She said: “Highways England have been very, very cagey, well they’ve refused to release this data, so it’s making me very nervous. We have to look at it being more than a coincidence.”

She added: “I always think some good has to come out of a death, so I hope that with all the campaigning Claire has done, that we will prevent other deaths, Jason’s death cannot just be needless.”

Mrs Mercer described her husband at the time as “strong, funny, noisy, colourful and amazing”.