Widow leads coffin protest against ‘smart motorways’ she blames for husband’s death in crash which also killed Mansfield man

Widow Claire Mercer led a coffin-carrying protest to Parliament against the ‘smart motorways’ she blames for a crash which killed her husband and a Mansfield man.

By David Kessen
Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 4:40 pm

Sunday, was due to be Mrs Mercer’s wedding anniversary. But instead of celebrating with husband Jason, she was putting the last preparations into the protest against the removal of hard shoulders from motorways, which she believes led to his death in 2019.

About 50 demonstrators marched to Parliament Square on Monday to demand a ban on all-lane running motorways, which can convert the hard shoulder into a live traffic lane.

They carried 38 cardboard coffins representing the official number of people killed on smart motorways between 2014 and 2019 – but Mrs Mercer believes the figure is now much higher.

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Jason Mercer, 44, from Rotherham and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, from Mansfield, were killed when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into them on the M1 smart motorway near Sheffield

She said: “Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. I had wanted to do the protest on the actual anniversary, but it fell on a Sunday, which would not have worked well for the protest here.”

There have been mounting concerns about such motorways after several fatal accidents involving stationary vehicles being hit from behind.

Mr Mercer, aged 44, and 22-year-old Alexandru Murgeanu, from Mansfield, died when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into their vehicles after they stopped on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield without a hard shoulder.

Szuba, 40, from Hull, was jailed for 10 months in October 2020 after admitting causing the deaths of Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu by careless driving.

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Mrs Mercer said: “They keep doing review after review. In the meantime, people are still dying.

“There's a really strong feeling against these. We need to embarrass the Government into actually doing something.

“We don't need a raft of changes. We just need the hard shoulder back in every single instance.”

After crossing Westminster Bridge, the protesters stood outside the Department of Transport with their placards for what they called a ‘static protest’.

Mrs Mercer said her campaign is educating the public about the risks of smart motorways.

She said: “My husband might still be alive if he'd known what a smart motorway was.”

She said she had received hundreds of emails expressing support for the protest.

National Highways, the Government-owned company responsible for England's motorways and major A roads, said the chance of death on smart motorways is less than any other major road.

Nick Harris, chief executive, 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.”

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