Smart motorways breach the Human Rights Act because people have the “absolute right” not to be killed by the state, MPs were told.
Relatives of those who have died on motorways stripped of a hard shoulder attended a special hearing with the Transport Select Committee last week.
Although the session was held in private, The Telegraph can reveal the emotional testimony of those who lost loved ones after the car they were in stopped on a live lane before being hit by other traffic.
Claire Mercer, 45, said the Government’s continued roll-out of smart motorways was a breach of Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, which says that our right to life cannot be interfered with by the state.
Her husband, Jason, 44, was killed along with Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, on the M1 after they failed to reach an emergency refuge area.
She argued that because ministers chose to turn the hard shoulder into a fourth lane, the state had technically removed a safe haven and so should be held responsible for those who die when their car stops in a live lane.
“Smart motorways contravene Article 2 of the Human Rights Act – the right not to be killed by the state. The Government has a duty to protect its citizens. How can removing the safety feature of the hard shoulder on a hazardous [motorway] environment not be dangerous?
“That danger is compounded by the lack of education about a fundamental change to the country’s road network.”
She said the Government’s determination to scrap the hard shoulder to cut costs and increase capacity meant it was left with “no defence” if more people died after breaking down in live lanes.
Mrs Mercer, from Rotherham, set up Smart Motorways Kill, which represents relatives of those who have died in live lane breakdowns and is calling for the hard shoulder to be reinstated.
She complained to MPs that their 2016 report calling for static vehicle detection systems to be rolled out on all smart motorways was not heeded by the Department for Transport or the government-owned company Highways England, which runs the motorway network.
“Nothing has changed – just the death toll,” she said, adding: “We just need the hard shoulder back in every single circumstance.”
Baroness Vere, a transport minister, told the committee which is investigating the roll-out and safety of smart motorways, that more education needed to be done to convince the public that smart motorways were as safe or safer than conventional ones with hard shoulders.
"We probably need to work a little harder on getting advocates and presenting the evidence," she said.