Outrage over ‘inappropriate’ advert on motorway breakdowns after M1 death near Sheffield

A group set up after a horror crash on the M1 near Sheffield has expressed outrage at a new Highways England advert advising motorists on what to do if they break down.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 12:34 pm

The safety campaign has been launched by Highways England to help drivers feel safer on the country’s motorways.

In a multi-million pound public information drive, the company gives motorists advice about what to do in an emergency, with around 600 journeys a day involving a motorway breakdown.

Set to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys’ hit version of the ‘Go West’ song, the advert delivers a ‘go left, get safe, get help’ message using cartoon characters, music and humour to remind drivers to make their way to the left hand side of the carriageway and refuge areas if possible if they break down.

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Outrage has been expressed at a new Highways England advert advising motorists on how to use smart motorways. Picture: Chris Etchells

Highways England’s Acting Chief Executive, Nick Harris, said: “No one plans to break down on a motorway, but if the unexpected happens then I want all motorists to know what to do so that they can keep themselves and others safe.

“Everyone wants a safe journey and raising awareness is a vital part of helping to make sure that happens.

“This new campaign and its ‘go left’ message is designed to deliver crucial information in an accessible way and to help make motorways safer for the people who use them.

“This campaign is just one of the many steps we are taking to invest in our network with safety as our number one priority, doing everything we can to help drivers feel confident on our motorways.”

The campaign is part of an 18-point action plan published by the Department for Transport in March last year, with Highways England asked to deliver the campaign to improve safety and public confidence on smart motorways.

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason 44, from Rotherham, was killed along with motorist Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, from Mansfield, when they were hit by a lorry after a crash on the M1 smart motorway near Sheffield in June 2019 is among those who have expressed disgust at the advert.

She plans to lodge an official complaint.

Jason and Alexandru were killed after stopping to exchange details on a stretch of smart motorway without a hard shoulder after a minor collision.

Jason’s partner is campaigning for Highways England to be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter on the grounds of how dangerous she claims smart motorways are.

Sheffield coroner David Urpeth recently ruled that the lack of a hard shoulder ‘contributed’ to the deaths of Jason and Alexandru.

Mrs Mercer, who runs the Smart Motorways Kill campaign, said: “It is disgusting – to try to use humour and cartoon character of flies being splattered against a windscreen to deliver such an important message is just not appropriate.

“There haven’t been any awareness campaigns for decades and then they release this. Serious questions need to be asked.”

A Facebook post on her campaign group’s page says: “This foul, outrageous advert is what Highways England is passing out for education. Complete with ‘Go Left’ jingles, it features flies splattered across a windscreen as a motorist loses power on the motorway. To say it is an insult to those who have lost their lives...”