Smart Transport

Future of smart motorways called into question

Smart motorway

The future of smart motorways has been called into question after a spate of fatal crashes, one of which has resulted in Highways England being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on a potential charge of corporate manslaughter.

Nargis Begum, 62, from Sheffield, was killed on the M1 in South Yorkshire in September 2018 after her vehicle had broken down in a live lane, with no hard shoulder.

Begum had exited the vehicle and was waiting for help when the incident happened

More than 16 minutes elapsed between the Nissan breaking down and the collision, plus a further six minutes before warning signs telling other drivers not to use the lane in which the Nissan was located were activated.

At a pre-inquest review hearing for Begum last week the Doncaster coroner decided to refer the case to the CPS.

This is the second time a coroner has raised serious concerns about the smart motorway in South Yorkshire.

Earlier this year, at an inquest into the deaths of Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu, the coroner recorded a verdict of unlawful killing and called for a review of smart motorways.

Almost 40 people have been killed on smart motorways in the past five years and pressure is mounting against their use. 

This week, South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings repeated his calls for the Government to 'abandon' smart motorways, following a crash on the M1 involving a car and an HGV.

He said: "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.

"I have received many accounts now from people who have had bad experiences on the smart motorway, even if they have not broken down or been involved in a collision."

Last year, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps commissioned a review into smart motorways, which reportedly found that "in most ways", smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, conventional ones.

The report suggested that risks such as tailgating, rapid changes of vehicle speeds, vehicles drifting off the carriageway and vehicles being driven too fast were  lower on smart motorways compared with conventional motorways.

However, there was an admission that some risks are higher than on conventional motorways, for example the risk of a collision between a moving and stationary vehicle.

The Government has introduced a number of measures to addresses those risks.

At the time, Shapps said the measure would "help rebuild public confidence in our motorway network and ensure that safety is firmly at the heart of the programme".

A Highways England spokesperson reiterated the organisation's commitment to road safety.

They said: “Our deepest sympathies are with the families, and all those affected by these tragic incidents.

“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 absolutely committed to making our roads as safe as they can be”.



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