Grieving families tell of unending grief after crash on smart motorway

Smart motorways: AA President reacts to suspension of rollout

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Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, and Jason Mercer, 44, had been swapping insurance details following a minor collision on the M1 when they were struck by a lorry. It happened on a section of road where the hard shoulder was used for traffic – a so-called smart motorway. A similar rule was was due to be introduced on four roads in the UK until the Government delayed their plans this week over safety concerns.

The suspension has been welcomed by Mr Murgeanu and Mr Mercer’s heartbroken families.

Mr Murgeanu’s sister Andreea Murgeanu, 28, said: “It is something that has haunted our family ever since, it has never left us.

“Sometimes I find myself thinking that things would have been different today and he would still be alive today if I never told him to come to the UK.

“It is a blame that I will never learn how to live with.”

Ms Murgeanu, who moved back to Romania after the fatal crash, added: “I do not think that I will ever reach closure, but campaigning against the smart motorways scheme meant that Alexandru did not die in vain.

“I am happy that something good might come out of it.

“It should not have taken so many deaths to finally make a change – but the Government decision after years of despair is a sign of hope.

“While nothing can bring my brother back, at least we could prevent future deaths.

“I just do not want for anyone else to ever have to go what we went through – the last years of my life have been a nightmare.”

Mr Murgeanu, a Yodel delivery driver, was “loved by many,” mum-of-two Ms Murgeanu told Nottinghamshire Live.

I will not accept any compromises – until there is a hard shoulder on every single motorway this campaign will not end

Claire Mercer, grieving widow

Mr Mercer’s widow Claire, 45, said these smart motorways should be banned because they increase risk for motorists.

Her partner was travelling on a stretch of one on the M1 near junction 34 for Sheffield, South Yorkshire, when he and Mr Murgeanu had a minor bump on June 7, 2019.

An inquest into the deaths heard the crash with the lorry “would have been avoided” had there been a hard shoulder on the stretch of road.

Prezemyslaw Zbigniew Szuba, who was driving the HGV, was jailed for 10 months and banned from driving for four years and five months in October 2020 after being charged with two counts of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving.

Prior to his court case though, the 40-year-old driver, from Hull, told the inquest: “If there had been a hard shoulder on this bit of motorway, the collision would have been avoidable.

“I would have driven past these two cars as it would be safer and they would have been able to come home safely and I would be able to come back home.”

And since the crash – and several of other tragedies on smart motorways – MPs and monitoring groups have expressed their concern about the projects.

Now, plans to convert stretches of the M3, M25, M62 and M40 will be put on hold until more safety information is available. 

The Government has, though, promised a £900million package to make existing smart motorways safer, the work including the building of more emergency refuge areas for vehicles in trouble.

Existing ALRs – roads which have no hard shoulder – will see a total of £390 million spent retrofitting more emergency refuges and installing technology to detect stranded vehicles.

But Ms Mercer, from Broom, South Yorkshire, wants the hard shoulder reinstating on all motorways.

She said: “I am not as happy as I would like to be because, although they are saying the will be pausing the rollout, there is so much that needs to be done.

“I will not accept any compromises – until there is a hard shoulder on every single motorway this campaign will not end.

“And if they are not going to do this quickly to save lives, then we are going to have to take it to the High Court and people are going to die in the meantime.”

Ms Mercer’s legal team at Irwin Mitchell is continuing investigations on her behalf ahead of a potential legal case against the Government and National Highways, formerly Highways England.

Szuba’s Mercedes lorry was travelling at a speed-regulated 56mph in the moments before the tragedy.

Both Mr Murgeanu and Mr Mercer’s cars had been stationary for six minutes before the crash, the coroner heard.

According to a recent poll, around 78 per cent of drivers somewhat or strongly agreed that all smart motorways should include a hard shoulder, or more frequent emergency refuge areas.

Younger drivers are far more likely to feel safe on a motorway without a hard shoulder compared to adults aged over 55 (39 per cent to under 10 per cent).

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