Smart motorways: Mother whose son died in M6 crash has welcomed pause in new rollout

  • Rajiv Popat speaks to Meera Naran

A mother who lost her son in a car collision has said she welcomes a pause in the smart motorway rollout but has vowed to continue campaigning until there are zero deaths on the roads.

Meera Naran, who is from Leicester, lost her eight-year-old son Dev in May 2018 when his grandfather's Toyota Yaris was stuck by a lorry travelling at 56mph on a section of the M6 near Birmingham.

Since his death, she has campaigned in his memory and spoken out against the expansion of smart motorway networks across the country. 

"This whole campaign is in his memory. It's all the unspent love I have for my baby, he's in every breath every single day."

"This whole campaign is in his memory" says Ms Naran, "it's all the unspent love I have for my baby, he's in every breath every single day."

Ms Naran was recently awarded an MBE for her campaign work. She says: "I was very honored and it was a very emotional time, I had to take some time away because it was so emotional, but it's his, he's more worthy than I'll ever be."

"I will continue campaigning in his name and I can only hope and prey that the changes I have made will save lives" she adds.

The M6

"I welcome the pause in the rollout of smart motorways, I think it’s going to give us time to reassess the smart motorway network, also reassess the network as a whole."

"There are risks with smart roadways and benefits as well, but there are also risks and benefits with conventional motorways with hard shoulders and I think it’ll give us a real opportunity to look at both."

The Department for Transport on Wednesday said it will halt the expansion of the motorways, where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane, until five years’ worth of data has been collected to assess whether or not they are safe for drivers.

They have also announced a £900 million commitment to ensure drivers feel safe and confident, including extra £390 million to install additional emergency areas.

Ms Naran continued by saying: "I’m encouraged by the commitment of £900 million to improve the safety of our motorways, following my campaigning since Dev died.

"However, I’ll continue to both challenge and work alongside the Department for Transport to ensure even more is done, including calling for legislation to be looked at for Autonomous Emergency Braking and further support for on-going driver education.

“I campaign in Dev’s memory and his name. He wanted to be a doctor and save lives and I’m campaigning for road safety and I only can hope and pray it will also save lives as well.”

Dev Naran Credit: BPM

What is a ‘smart’ motorway?

‘Smart motorways’ were introduced by Highways England with the aim of reducing congestion. So far, over 200 miles of motorways across England have been converted into ‘smart motorways.’

When a motorway is converted, the hard shoulder can be used as a normal-running lane, either during busier periods or permanently.

But motoring groups have warned they create a safety risk as vehicles that break down suddenly could be hit from behind.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says, “One of my first actions as Transport Secretary was to order a stocktake of smart motorways and since then, I have worked consistently to raise the bar on their safety. 

"I am grateful to the Transport Committee and to all those who provided evidence for its work.

“While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them.

“Pausing schemes yet to start construction and making multi-million-pound improvements to existing schemes will give drivers confidence and provide the data we need to inform our next steps. I want thank safety campaigners, including those who have lost loved ones, for rightly striving for higher standards on our roads. I share their concerns.”

Nick Harris, CEO of National Highways, says they have "listened to public concerns about smart motorways."

He added, "we are fully committed to taking forward the additional measures the Transport Committee has recommended.

"While we pause those all lane running schemes yet to start construction we will complete the schemes currently in construction, we will make existing sections as safe as they can possibly be and we will step up our advice to drivers so they have all the information they need."

He added: "We are doing this because safety is our absolute priority and we want drivers to not just be safer, but also to feel safe on our busiest roads.”