Smart Motorways Families Of Those Killed On M1 Join Forces Calling For Roads To Be Scrapped

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Relatives Of Jason Mercer And Nargis Begum Launch Joint Campaign

Grieving relatives whose loved ones were killed on a smart motorway are joining forces as they step up their campaign for them to be scrapped.

Jason Mercer, 47, and Nargis Begum, 62, died in separate crashes on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield. 

Following Jason’s death, his widow Claire, of Broom, Rotherham, instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate bringing a judicial review against Highways England calling for the use of smart motorways to be halted.

Nargis’s family, of Darnall, Sheffield, have now launched a separate legal case against Highways England in connection with her death.

Our Smart Motorways Clients Campaign Together For Change

The families have teamed up to lobby Highways England for change. As part of the Smart Motorways Kill movement, the families want to hear from others who have either been injured or had relatives die on the stretches of road where the traditional hard shoulder has been replaced. 

Helen Smith, is the expert public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, representing Claire.

Expert Opinion

“Claire and Nargis’s family are steadfast in their belief that smart motorways cost lives.

“As part of our investigations into Claire’s case we’re continuing to uncover more information about smart motorways which backs up that view. A recent survey also found more than half of drivers questioned didn’t know to use a smart motorway which just adds to the groundswell of opinion that there needs to be change.” Helen Smith – Associate Solicitor

Jason Mercer’s Story

Jason and 22-year-old Alexandru Murgreanu, from Mansfield, were killed when they were knocked down by a lorry shortly after the pair was involved in a minor collision near junction 34 of the M1 near Meadowhall. The pair had pulled over to the roadside as far as they could.

However, the lane was not closed to traffic until after the collision which happened on 7 June, 2019.   

Nargis Begum’s Story

Nargis, a mum-of-five and grandmother-of-nine, died in September 2018, after the Nissan Qashqai she was a passenger in broke down near Woodall services. Nargis and her husband Mohammed Bashir, 67, who had been driving, exited their vehicle and were waiting for help to arrive when another vehicle then collided with their vehicle causing the Nissan to plough into Nargis. 

The stranded Nissan had its hazard lights on for 17 minutes when the other vehicle collided with it. The lane had not been closed to traffic.

Minutes before the collision the couple had phoned their daughter Saima Aktar who arrived at the scene to find paramedics trying to save her mum. 

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Jason and Nargis were among four people to die in collisions on the M1 around Sheffield in 10 months. The stretch of motorway is an ‘all lanes running’ (ALR) motorway which instead of a hard shoulder has emergency refuges spaced at intervals.

Christopher Kardajhi, a specialist road accident lawyer is representing Nargis’s family.

Expert Opinion

“Nargis’s and Claire’s families have suffered unspeakable losses. Understandably they still have a number of questions about how Jason and Nargis’s deaths could have happened.

“Smart motorway safety continues to be in the spotlight with the number of people killed on such routes a major cause for concern.

“We’re determined to do everything we can to support families affected by the use of smart motorways and provide the families with the answers they deserve.” Christopher Kardahji – Team Leader & Senior Associate

Why Families Are Campaigning For Change On Smart Motorways

Saima said: “My Mum was the most loving and caring mum you could ever wish for. She lived for her family and was our rock. 

“It may be more than two years since her death but the pain we continue to feel is as strong now as it was then. My Dad in particular is absolutely devastated. That he avoided injury but his wife of 45 years didn’t has had such an impact on him. 

“We still don’t understand why action is not being taken to sort the problem of these motorways. They may be called smart but they’re anything but.” 

Claire added: “It’s too late for me and Nargis’s family and nothing will ever replace the hurt and anger we feel. However, we do take some small comfort from trying to help and support each other. 

“We’re determined to honour the memory of Jason and Nargis by pushing for change. We know only too well the dangers of smart motorways and no doubt others do. However, they don’t have to be alone and we can campaign for change together.” 

Claire has launched a crowdfunding campaign to try and raise £20,000 to help challenge the government’s policy on Smart Motorways.  
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Smart Motorways Background

In January, a hard hitting parliamentary report found some of the deaths of the eight people killed on all lane running motorways could have been avoided with the use of technology to detect stationary vehicles. A commitment to install such technology was made in 2016.

There had been “gross public policy” failures which were a “damning indictment” of Highway England’s “on-the-hoof approach” to such sections of motorway, the report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Roadside Rescue and Recovery said. 

In its publication the group found: 

A total of 38 per cent of 51,100 breakdowns recorded on stretches of ALR motorway were in live lanes, compared to 20.43 per cent on conventional motorways. This was described as “completely unacceptable” and a “public policy failure”.

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Claims from Highways England that spacing of emergency refuges – which vehicles use instead of a hard shoulder – less than 1.5 miles apart had no effect were “unconvincing”.

Highways England does not have enough resources and systems in place to respond to live lane breakdowns quickly enough.

Stopped vehicle detection technology recently trialled on the M25 should have been installed on all stretches of all lane running motorways from the outset and “certainly should have been retrofitted in 2016 after a commitment by Highways England to do so. 

An admission that if such technology was in operation some of those eight people killed on ALR carriageways may not have lost their lives amounted to a “gross public policy failure and damning indictment of the agency’s on-the-hoof approach to All Lane Running motorways.”

There was not enough enforcement of stopping drivers travelling in lanes with a red X on overhead signs, indicating the lane is closed.

The report ruled that all lane running motorways should be halted until: 

At least three years of data is available for each stretch of road that shows safety improvements 

The live lane breakdown rate is below the 20.43 per cent rate on traditional motorways.

There is a “marked improvement in the current response time of 17 minutes 43 seconds by Highways England officers to live breakdowns.

Emergency laybys are located a maximum of 800 metres apart on all stretches of carriageway

All stretches have stopped vehicle detection technology installed

Drivers complying with red X lane closure signs was raised to 98 per cent.  

Last month a poll of just over 2,000 drivers commissioned by road safety charity Brake and breakdown firm Green Flag found 48 per cent of respondents knew how to use smart motorways.
A quarter of those questioned said they did not even know what one was.

Smart Motorways in Numbers

As of October 2019 there were 35 operational stretches of smart motorways with eight schemes under construction

Smart motorways cover more than 400 miles of England. An additional 300 miles are planned by 2025. 

There are more than 100 miles of ALR motorways with no hard shoulder

A total of 38 per cent of 51,100 breakdowns recorded on stretches of ALR motorway were in live lanes, compared to 20.43 per cent on conventional motorways

There had been 38 deaths on smart motorways in five years up to the start of 2020

Last month a poll of just over 2,000 drivers commissioned by road safety charity Brake and breakdown firm Green Flag found 48 per cent of respondents knew how to use smart motorways.

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