'Dangerous' smart motorway should be scrapped after another serious crash, police boss says

16 February 2021, 18:39

File photo: Part of the M3 has also been converted into a smart motorway
File photo: Part of the M3 has also been converted into a smart motorway. Picture: PA

By Megan White

A smart motorway which has featured in two recent inquests should be scrapped following another serious crash, a police boss has said.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Dr Alan Billings said one occupant of a stationary car in a live lane on the M1 had to be airlifted to hospital after a lorry collided into it.

He has repeatedly criticised the smart motorway on the M1 which has no hard shoulder on that stretch and last year called it "inherently dangerous".

Dr Billings said: "I said that as long as it remained in place it was a constant danger to anyone unfortunate enough either to break down in it or to be travelling along it when another vehicle had broken down.

"Since then we have had two coroners raise serious concerns about the smart motorway in South Yorkshire and I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport expressing my grave concerns.

"Last Friday we had a further incident of a heavy goods vehicle colliding with a stationary car in a live running lane.

"One of the occupants of the car was airlifted to hospital with very serious injuries."

The PCC added: "I am forced to reiterate my concerns and to strongly urge Highways England and the Department of Transport to think again about this type of motorway.

"I do not believe there is anyone who uses this stretch of the motorway, as I do, who does not feel anxious when driving along it."

He said: "I call upon the minister and Highways England to abandon this type of smart motorway before we have more serious injuries or fatalities."

Last week a coroner investigating the death of 62-year-old grandmother Nargis Begum on the smart motorway referred Highways England to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider if corporate manslaughter charges were appropriate.

She died on a stretch of the M1 without a hard shoulder in South Yorkshire, near Woodall Services, in September 2018.

And last month a different coroner concluded that smart motorways "present an ongoing risk of future deaths".

Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said the primary cause of death of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, on the M1 in South Yorkshire in June 2019 was the careless driving of lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba, who ploughed into their vehicles as they stood stationary in lane one following a minor shunt.

Recording a conclusion of unlawful killing, Mr Urpeth said: "I find, as a finding of fact, it is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "Since taking office, the Transport Secretary has committed £500 million to smart motorway safety improvements and has recently pressed Highways England to further accelerate work in certain areas.

"The safety and peace of mind of drivers and passengers using these routes remains our priority."

A Highways England spokesperson said: "We want to do everything we can to make our motorways as safe as possible.

"In March 2020, the Government published a smart motorway evidence stocktake report which found that in most ways smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones.

"We are aware of the ongoing concerns from Dr Billings and others and we are working hard to deliver the improvements set out in the Transport Secretary's action plan."

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