Smart motorways ‘present an ongoing risk of future deaths’, a coroner has concluded, following an inquest into the deaths of two men on a stretch of the M1 with no hard shoulder.
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.
Szuba, 40, ploughed into their vehicles as they stood stationary in lane one following a minor shunt.
But, 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.’
Mr Mercer’s widow Claire, who is a vocal campaigner against smart motorways, cried when the coroner gave his decision.
‘Somebody has listened and finally taken steps to address the use of these death trap roads,’ said the 43-year-old after the inquest.
‘We have taken a first step today to protecting the lives of others.’
Thirty-eight people have been killed on smart motorways over a five-year period, the BBC reported last year.
Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said the primary cause of death of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, on the M1 in South Yorkshire (pictured, the aftermath of the scene) in June 2019 was the careless driving of lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba
Jason Mercer (left, with his wife Claire), 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu (right), 22, died when a lorry ploughed into their stationary vehicles on the M1 near Sheffield on June 7, 2019
Eight-year-old Dev Naran (pictured with his mother Meera Naran) was killed on the M6 in Birmingham in 2018 after his family’s car became stranded on a hard shoulder being used as a live lane
Prezemyslaw Zbigniew Szuba, 40, admitted two counts of causing death by driving without due care and attention over the incident near Sheffield on June 7, 2019
Others who have been killed include grandmother Nargis Begum, 62, (pictured) who died after her broken down car was hit on the M1 in South Yorkshire in 2018
Others who have been killed include grandmother Nargis Begum, 62, who died after her broken down car was hit on the M1 in South Yorkshire in 2018.
Mrs Begum was being driven by husband Mohammed Bashir, 67. They left their Nissan Qashqai to wait for help but another car hit the vehicle, sending it into her.
A pre-inquest review hearing in December was told that warning signs on the motorway had not been activated in time to stop drivers entering the lane where the couple had broken down.
A coroner is considering referring Highways England to the Crown Prosecution Service in what would be a landmark case.
Eight-year-old Dev Naran was killed on the M6 in Birmingham in 2018 after his family’s car became stranded on a hard shoulder being used as a live lane.
At the inquest into the youngster’s death, coroner Emma Brown expressed concerns about the ‘risk to life from the loss of the hard shoulder’.
After the inquest his mother Meera, from Leicester, said that without changes, she believes smart motorways ‘still continue to pose threats to lives on a daily basis’.
In yesterday’s inquest into Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu’s deaths, the coroner said he will be writing to Highways England and Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps recommending a review of smart motorways.
He told an inquest at Sheffield town hall: ‘I believe that smart motorways, as things currently stand, present an ongoing risk of future deaths.’
Szuba was jailed for 10 months in October last year after admitting causing the deaths of Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu by careless driving.
Mr Mercer’s wife Claire (pictured) has mounted a prominent campaign against smart motorways, arguing that he would not have died if there had been a hard shoulder
Answering questions over the phone from prison, Szuba told the hearing he accepted he was driving without paying proper attention, telling a coroner: ‘I have already accepted that at my trial.’
But he told the inquest: ‘If there had been a hard shoulder on this bit of motorway, the collision would have been avoidable.
‘I 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.’
Szuba told the inquest at Sheffield Town Hall he had only three to five seconds to react, and asked if he would have avoided the crash if he had been paying attention, he said: ‘It’s difficult to say after everything now.’
He also confirmed that he had no specific training in driving on a smart motorway.
Sergeant Mark Brady, who oversees major collision investigations for South Yorkshire Police, told the hearing: ‘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.’
Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said the primary cause of death of Jason Mercer (pictured with his wife Claire), 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, on the M1 in South Yorkshire in June 2019 was the careless driving of lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba
There are currently more than 20 sections of ‘smart motorways’ on seven different motorways
But Sgt Brady accepted that the primary cause of the crash was Szuba’s inattention to the road.
The hearing heard how the tragedy happened on June 7, 2019, after a slight collision between a Ford Focus driven by Mr Mercer, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, and a Ford Transit driven by Mr Murgeanu, who was living in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, but was originally from Romania.
The two vehicles stopped in lane one of the four-lane motorway just north of junction 34, on the northbound carriageway, and both men had got out of their vehicles.
Coroner David Urpeth was told the vehicles had been stationary for about six minutes when they were hit by Szuba’s Mercedes lorry, which was travelling at a speed-regulated 56mph.
Mr Mercer’s wife Claire, who has been a prominent campaigner against smart motorways since her husband’s death, watched proceedings in court with her legal team.