The widow of a man killed on a smart motorway has insisted Highways England is responsible for her husband's death after a judge said he would be alive today if there had been a hard shoulder.
Claire Mercer's husband Jason, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died when a lorry ploughed into their stationary vehicles on the M1 near Sheffield on June 7 last year. The men had stopped on the inside lane to exchange details after a "minor shunt".
The lorry driver Prezemyslaw Zbigniew Szuba , 40, was jailed for 10 months for causing the mens' deaths after driving at 56mph without due care and attention.
Sheffield Crown Court heard he had up to five seconds to spot the stationary vehicles and take evasive action, but failed to do so. The two men died one mile from an emergency refuge area on a stretch of motorway where the hard shoulder had been turned into a live lane.
The men were the third and fourth people to die on the stretch of smart motorway in 10 months .
The majority of the hearing at Sheffield Crown Court focused on the "inadequacies" of smart motorways as Judge Jeremy Richardson QC, described hard shoulders as similar to lifeboats on ships: no one wants to use them but it is "reassuring" they are there.
The court heard the two cars were stationary for five minutes and 51 seconds before the impact. But, Highways England staff failed to spot the vehicles on CCTV to close the lane. A total of 147 other vehicles either stopped or swerved to avoid the men.
Sentencing Szuba, the Record of Sheffield said Szubu was the "primary cause" of the deaths as he was "not paying attention at all".
He added: "The reason they stopped on the carriageway was because there was nowhere else to go for another mile.
"The hard shoulder used to be the norm on all British motorways. It served an extremely useful purpose and provided reassurance to all drivers on a fast moving highway.
"All drivers hoped they never needed to use it, but it was there in case of emergency to allow a vehicle to pull to the side to deal with the problems and seek help.
"I have not idea what research was undertaken when the decision was made to remove the hard shoulder on certain smart motorways, but I cannot help but think that placing refuges at intervals of nearly three miles or one and a half miles is less than ideal or substitute for a full hard shoulder."
Although the judge said it was "unwise but understandable" that Mr Murgeanu and Mr Mercer had stopped to exchange insurance details, he said: "I cannot ignore the fact this incident would not have occurred had there been a hard shoulder."
Earlier, Mrs Mercer, 44, had tearfully shaken the hand of a visibly distraught Szuba and claimed the real fault for the deaths was with Highways England bosses who removed hard shoulders without having adequate technology to spot stationary vehicles.
After he was jailed, she said: "We don't believe the correct person is taking responsibility for this massive detrimental effect on our and so many other people's lives.
"The events of June 7 2019 would not have taken place if there had been a hard shoulder and Highways England was run with the correct priorities in mind, instead of concentrating on who wins the next big contract.
Referring to Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, 'stocktake' into the safety of 'smart motorways' , she added: "An agenda genuinely concerned with avoiding future deaths is not served by a pretend review and 18 compromises that wouldn't have saved any of the 40-plus people killed by smart motorways or jailing the wrong person."
Since her husband's death Mrs Mercer launched a campaign called "Smart Motorways Kill" which has seen relatives of those killed launch a judicial review into their safety, as well as attempt to prosecute Highways England for corporate manslaughter.
She added: "Our campaign, Smart Motorways Kill, will not be compromised. We already have a judicial review and a complaint for corporate manslaughter is in progress as well as multiple other legal cases and we won't stop until smart motorways are banned."
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