'We want to shock you': Grieving smart motorway protesters take coffins to Parliament

2 November 2021, 05:22 | Updated: 2 November 2021, 06:39

Claire Mercer led a coffin protest over smart motorways
Claire Mercer led a coffin protest over smart motorways. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

A protester who led a procession of coffins to Westminster wants to "embarrass" the Government and "shock the public" over smart motorway deaths.

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Claire Mercer lost her husband Jason after a lorry crashed into his vehicle on the M1.

The judge said at the following court case that had there been a hard shoulder, or had he managed to get to a refuge point, the tragedy would not have happened.

About 50 protesters marched on central London on Monday, carrying 38 fake coffins as part of their campaign against smart motorways.

"We've got a procession of coffins heading to Westminster Bridge," Mrs Mercer told LBC, hoisting a coffin over her shoulder.

"We're going to walk across Westminster Bridge single-file to hammer home the message that people are still dying on these smart motorways."

Read more: Drivers want hard shoulders to be reinstated on smart motorways, survey suggests

Read more: No new smart motorways will be built without extra safety measures

Coffin protest against smart motorways

A man who was helping her carry the coffin was injured on a smart motorway just six months ago, Mrs Mercer added, showing they are still "ruining lives".

She said the coffins were a "powerful image to shock the public and to embarrass the Government because they've done 10 reviews into smart motorways alone this year and it's just the Government checking the Government".

"It's never going to achieve anything is it?" she added.

The Smart Motorways Kill campaign says it "is bringing a judicial review to force a legal stop to smart motorways in the names of everyone killed and hurt on these death traps".

The network doesn't use hard shoulders, and are supposed to make use of cameras to monitor traffic flow.

Electronic boards change speed limits and close off lanes with stopped vehicles by displaying a red 'X', while drivers needing to pull over can use refuges at certain points.

Read more: Stop building smart motorways until they're safe, MPs demand

Protest over smart motorway deaths

But there are fears about whether motorists are at more risk on smart motorways than regular ones which have hard shoulders when a car breaks down or an accident means drivers need to pull over.

In April, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that new smart motorways would not open in England unless extra safety measures were in place.

That includes a Stopped Vehicle Detection system which detects broken down vehicles.

Mr Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died in the incident on June 2019.

The lorry driver was jailed for causing deaths by careless driving, and the judge said at the time: "Had there been a hard shoulder, or had the victims driven on for another mile to the refuge, this catastrophe would never have occurred."

Mrs Mercer said during the procession protest: "It's so sad to see so many people in one place that have had exactly the same experience as me.

"And so many other people here, they've had terrifying experiences."

She accused the Government of "ignoring us and hoping we go away".

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said: "Every road death is a tragic loss of life and our thoughts remain with those who have lost a loved one.

"Safety remains our top priority and our motorways are the safest type of road in the country.

"Data shows fatalities are less likely on smart motorways than on conventional ones, but we recognise concerns continue to be raised.

"We are determined to do all we can to help drivers feel safe and be safer on all our roads. We will work with drivers to make increasingly busy motorways safer for everyone who uses them."