We have all seen the introduction of the smart motorway in our local transport network, and more than likely have become frustrated in a traffic queue caused by the road works to transition the existing hard shoulder or three lane carriageway into four lane motorways monitored by cameras.
However, coroner David Urpeth has called for a review following the conclusion of an inquest into the deaths of Mr Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu, two men who were killed after a minor collision on the M1 motorway. Their deaths occurred when a lorry driver ploughed into their vehicles moments after their initial collision. A contributory factor leading to their deaths was considered to be a lack of a hard shoulder on the motorway, and the camera network not picking up the initial incident, in order to flag up the need for a lane closure. The coroner advised that he would be writing to both Grant Shapps, MP, the Secretary of State for Transport and Highways England with his recommendations that the use of smart motorways should be reviewed.
Recording a verdict of unlawful killing against the lorry driver who subsequently crashed into the two vehicles, which had been stationary for only six minutes, Mr Urpeth said that “I find, as a finding of fact, it is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy.”
The AA president added weight to the argument that more emergency refuge areas along smart motorways should be introduced, and added that the AA were vigorously campaigning for these to be introduced every three quarters of a mile, as opposed to the current distance of 1.5 miles.
Statistical data gleaned from Highways England in 2019 showed that, on average, it took just over 17 minutes for a static vehicle in a live lane to be identified on camera.
Sadly, Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu are not the only drivers to be killed in such tragic circumstances. Whilst the Department of Transport have produced statistical data to show that smart motorways are safer than, or at least as safe as the old style hard shoulder motorways, the wisdom of dispensing with hard shoulder motorways is a debate which is likely to rage on.