Mum of accident victim calls for safer roads Meera Naran With Dev.
Radhakrishna N S
By Nadeem Badshah
A MOTHER whose eight-year-old son was killed on a stretch of smart motorway wants to honour his legacy by making Britain’s roads safer and prevent more deaths.
Meera Naran said her talented son Dev was “angelic” and her “best friend”. The schoolboy, from Leicester, died when his grandfather’s car was hit by a lorry on the hard shoulder of the M6 which was being used by moving traffic in 2018.
On the day Dev died he had been to see his older brother Neel, 11, who suffers from severe epilepsy and was in a critical condition in hospital.
The controversial smart motorway network faces an overhaul with the results of a government review due shortly.
Thirty-eight people have been killed on smart motorways in the past five years with criticism that because they do not have a hard shoulder, drivers who break down can be trapped in speeding traffic.
Speaking prior to the government review being unveiled, Mrs Naran told Eastern Eye: “Dev was angelic, for every health issue we had with Neel, Dev was the joy, bringing a smile to his face.
“He made us smile, he was a young carer, he was my best friend, so supportive and caring.
“He wanted to be a brain surgeon to help other children like Neel.
“I can’t believe he is not here. We have to save lives, make the roads a better and safer place.
“That is what I am left to do without my Dev. I have to keep going.”
Naran said Neel’s condition has worsened since being told about his younger brother’s death due to their close bond.
She said: “He stopped talking and walking completely, he was in hospital for a year after that.
“He has not been the same since.
“He was happy and cheery. His brother was his life, his eyes and ears to the outside world.
“Dev would go to school, learn things and he would teach his brother and would be hugely supportive, encouraging him, pushing him to be the best he could.
“When Neel was sick Dev would lie down next to him and be there for him. To see one without the other is absolutely heart-breaking.”
Smart motorways aim to improve traffic flow in the most congested parts of the network by using the hard shoulder as an extra lane.
But figures showed that on one section of the M25, outside London, the number of near accidents had risen 20-fold since the hard shoulder was removed in 2014.
In the five years before the road was converted into a smart motorway there were just 72 near misses. In the five years after, there were 1,485.
Naran, who met with transport secretary Grant Shapps over the issue, said depending on the results of the government review, she wants to work with ministers to make roads safer.
She said: “There has been a lot of evidence produced in the reports where they do not agree with smart motorways.
“In the original pilot for the M42, idea seemed like a good idea. Since rolling them out, they have changed the plan.
“They did not install the detection system which they had planned to do. The system would be able to identify if a car had stopped and change it to a hard shoulder.
“It is not fit for purpose at the moment. A huge amount of time and effort needs to go in immediately to ensure all drivers are safe and have a safe refuge.”
The mum added: “It needs to be changed, either bring back hard shoulders for a period of time while the electronic system comes in or build more refuges.
“It’s all about no more families go through what we have been through.
“There was no public consultation over the pilot rolled out, no education for the country.
“We have also not been told how many blind spots there are, where the camera doesn’t work or if there are enough cameras in the area.”
In 2017, recovery driver Jamil Ahmed, 36, died after becoming stranded on a smart motorway on the M6.
A coroner’s report calling for urgent action after Ahmed’s death was not submitted to Highways England.
The coroner eventually sent the Regulation 28 document, 21 months after it was promised due to an admin error. Four months after Ahmed died, Dev was killed on the same M6 stretch.
Naran said: “Because of an admin error the document never reached Highways England, who did not follow it up.
“If it was done, perhaps my Dev would have been here.
“When we did ask Highways England at the inquest what they learnt from my son’s death, we didn’t really get a substantial answer either.
“There are many areas I feel very disappointed with Highways England, there is a huge amount of work to be done.
“I have to be optimistic that changes will be made. I have put myself forward to make these changes with the government, I want to be part of making the roads safe for others.”
Naran’s friend Ravendra Thakor, a former councillor in Leicestershire, has called for answers from the government.
He said: “We need accountability from the person who is responsible for so many deaths knowing full well the programme had massive flaws.
“What will be done to bring justice to so many families?
“Where was the monitoring programme in place, risk analysis report and legal advice given before the decision was permitted to roll out the programme?”
Highways England said plans to expand smart motorways were approved by ministers and it was working to gather the facts about safety.
A spokesperson said: “Any death on our roads is one too many, and our deepest sympathies remain with the family and friends of those who lost their lives.”