The decision to remove the hard shoulder on 10 miles of the M6 and turn it into an extra lane reveals the government’s “reckless disregard” for the public’s safety, according to a road safety campaigner.

Claire Mercer, whose husband was struck and killed by an HGV on a smart motorway, warned that there was a danger to life in Highways England’s plans to introduce ‘all lanes running’ on one of the busiest stretches of motorway in the country.

Work to convert the M6 between junctions 21a and 26 starts next month, which the government agency said would increase capacity by a third.

Highways England said new radar detectors would be positioned along the motorway and will monitor traffic flow and detect any stationary vehicles.

Nearly 100 electronic signs will also be installed, which can set variable speed limits and close lanes by displaying red Xs during incidents.

In addition, 39 CCTV cameras will provide live images 24 hours a day to a regional operations centre in Newton-le-Willows.

But Mercer criticised the plans and said smart motorways need to be abolished: “The work to commence next month on the M6 is proof of Highways England and the government’s arrogance and their reckless disregard for road user’s safety,” she said.

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“That it coincides with what would have been [husband] Jason's 46th birthday, on March 2, adds further insult to injury.”

Her comments follow Sheffield coroner David Urpeth’s decision to write to the transport secretary and call for a review into smart motorways after finding that the absence of a hard shoulder contributed towards the death of Mercer on the M1 in 2019.

Doncaster coroner Nicola Mundy has also referred Highways England to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider if corporate manslaughter charges were appropriate over the death of 62-year-old Nargis Begum, who was killed when her car broke down on the M1 and was hit by another vehicle.

In a statement concerning the potential prosecution, Highways England said: “Our deepest sympathies are with the family of Mrs Begum, and all those affected by this tragic incident.

“Although we do not believe Highways England has committed any offence we will of course cooperate fully in any investigation.

“Every road death is a tragic loss of life and we are determined to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible.”

Last week, The Sunday Times reported that there were 14 deaths in 2019 on motorways where hard shoulders were being used as live lanes either part-time or full-time, up from 11 in 2018 and five in 2017.