Smart motorway horror crash deaths 'would have been avoided' with hard shoulder as Govt 'abandons' rollout

6 April 2023, 13:40

Derek Jacobs was killed in the crash
Derek Jacobs was killed in the crash. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

A horror crash on a smart motorway that left two people dead in a three-vehicle collision would have been avoided had there been a hard shoulder, a coroner has said.

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Derek Jacobs, 83, was killed when his van was hit by a car on the M1 near Sheffield in March 2019.

He had stopped on the inside lane after his tyre blew out and got out of the vehicle when it was hit by a Ford Ka driven by Jean Scripps.

That car then flipped on the carriageway and ended up on its side before a coach smashed into it.

Jean's husband Charles, who was in the front passenger seat of the Ka, died two months after the crash.

Read more: 'Death trap' smart motorways 'shelved' after safety concerns led to a rethink of controversial plans

Assistant coroner Susan Evans told an inquest Chesterfield Coroner's Court on Wednesday: "Smart motorways are hugely controversial because of the lack of any hard shoulder for motorists to use in times of need such as occurred here.

"It is immediately apparent that, had there been a hard shoulder, this incident would not have occurred because Mr Jacobs would have been able to pull off the live lane entirely."

But the coroner added: "That said, there are many roads in the road network, including dual carriageway A-roads, that are subject to the national speed limit and do not have the benefit of any hard shoulder."

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There was also no evidence Mrs Scripps took any action to avoid crashing, with Miss Evans says she "simply did not see the stationary van" and appeared not to have been paying attention to the road "for reasons we will never know".

Collision investigator Sergeant Paul Moorcroft said the "main causation" of the crash was Mrs Scripps' "period of inattention" but he added: "It is highly, highly unlikely this collision would have taken place had there been a hard shoulder."

Mr Jacobs had parked his van so only about 65cm of it was in the inside lane. At the time, the retired engineer, from Edgware in north London, had stopped on the northbound carriageway of junction 39, some 500 metres short of the next emergency refuge.

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There was enough of a gap meaning the Ford could have passed without moving into the second lane, Sgt Moorcroft said.

He added that Mrs Scripps, a retired teacher who was 77 when the crash happened, had enough time to see the van and other drivers had managed to avoid it.

There is no suggestion of any braking or steering. However, she was not interviewed due to her health and she was diagnosed with dementia six months after the collision.

Derek Jacobs was killed in a motorway crash
Derek Jacobs was killed in a motorway crash. Picture: Handout

Simon Boyle, the regional director for National Highways in Yorkshire and the North East, said the area is covered by technology that detects stopped vehicles but it was not installed at the time.

There had been "human error" in the control room after the van was reported by the public which meant warning signs did not go up until eight minutes after - with the aim being three minutes. Mr Boyle admitted you cannot "fully eradicate human error".

But the coroner said while this was "unfortunate" there is no evidence it contributed to the deaths.

Mr Scripps had multiple injuries and died in May 2019. The crash was one of three within 10 miles of each other on the M1 around Sheffield where the crash happened, adding to opposition to smart motorways.

Sally Jacobs, Mr Jacobs' widow, told The Telegraph: "I want the hard shoulder reinstated immediately.

"You wouldn't take lifeboats off boats and say 'we don't use them very often'."

Smart motorways have been blasted by critics over safety fears
Smart motorways have been blasted by critics over safety fears. Picture: Alamy

Previously, Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu, who died in June 2019, had been unlawfully killed and that a lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the deaths after they were hit by a lorry near junction 34, having stopped on the inside lane.

In 2018, Nargis Begum was hit by a Mercedes when she got out of the passenger side, having stopped north of Woodhall Services.

It comes amid reports that safety fears have led to an end to future smart motorways.

Department for Transport sources told the I newspaper that the plans for the motorways are unlikely to be resumed after fears over them causing crashes led to the rollout being paused in early 2022.

Roads minister Richard Holden refused to tell LBC's Nick Ferrari that he felt safe on smart motorways.