Coroner demands smart motorway review after 'avoidable' deaths

Smart motorways use the hard shoulder as an active lane Two men killed in 2019 M1 lorry crash could have survived if there had been a hard shoulder

The deaths of two men in a 2019 lorry crash could have been avoided, according to Sheffield coroner David Urpeth, who is leading calls for a review into the safety of smart motorways.

Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu were killed on 7 June 2019 when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into their cars on a stretch of the M1 that had been converted to a smart motorway and therefore had no hard shoulder. 

Recording a verdict of unlawful killing at Sheffield Town Hall yesterday (18 January), Urpeth said such road layouts present "an ongoing risk of future deaths" and that he would write to Highways England and transport secretary Grant Shapps to request a review.

Mercer and Murgeanu had exited their vehicles to swap insurance details after colliding with each other. Had there been a hard shoulder for this exchange to take place safely, the inquest heard, the pair may have survived the incident. 

Szuba has admitted causing the pair's death by careless driving, for which he was imprisoned last year, but the BBC reports that he told yesterday's inquest: "If there had been a hard shoulder on this bit of motorway, the collision would have been avoidable."

Had the inside lane not been used for traffic, Szuba said he would "have driven past these two cars, as it would be safer, and they would have been able to come home safely and I would be able to come back home". 

Sergeant Mark Brady of South Yorkshire Police concurred: "Had there been a hard shoulder, had Jason and Alexandru pulled on to the hard shoulder, my opinion is that Mr Szuba would have driven clean past them."

Smart motorways - or all-lane running (ALR) motorways - have been a subject of controversy since their roll-out in 2010. In November last year, the government gave the green light to nine new sections of smart motorway, despite widespread concerns over their safety.

The decision followed a review by Shapps that led to eighteen new measures being imposed to improve safety on smart motorways, including the removal of the 'dynamic' hard shoulder and a 'committment' to rescuing stranded motorists within 10 minutes of their vehicle stopping. 

Responding to Urpeth's verdict yesterday, Highways England said it was "determined" to improve safety on smart motorways and that it will "carefully consider any further comments raised by the coroner". 

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