M1 deaths: Coroner calls for smart motorway review

Image source, Other
Image caption,
Alexandru Murgeanu (l) and Jason Mercer were killed in the crash on the M1 in South Yorkshire

A coroner has called for a review of smart motorways after an inquest heard the deaths of two men on a stretch of the M1 could have been avoided.

Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died when Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed his lorry into their vehicles near Sheffield on 7 June 2019.

Coroner David Urpeth said smart motorways without a hard shoulder carry "an ongoing risk of future deaths".

Highways England said it was "addressing many of the points raised".

Mr Urpeth recorded a verdict of unlawful killing at Sheffield Town Hall. He added he would be writing to Highways England and the transport secretary asking for a review.

The inquest heard the deaths of the two men may have been avoided had there had been a hard shoulder.

On the stretch of the M1 where the crash took place, the hard shoulder has been replaced by an active lane.

He was speaking from prison to the inquest.

Image source, South Yorkshire Police
Image caption,
Prezemyslaw Szuba was jailed over the deaths

Answering questions over the phone, Szuba told the hearing he accepted he was driving without paying proper attention.

"I have already accepted that at my trial," he said, but added: "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 said he had only three to five seconds to react, and asked if he would have avoided the crash had he been paying attention, he said: "It's difficult to say after everything now."

Sgt 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."

But he accepted the primary cause of the crash was Szuba's inattention to the road.

The crash happened after a 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.

When Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu got out to exchange details they were hit by the lorry, and both died at the scene.

Mr Mercer's wife Claire has campaigned against smart motorways since her husband's death, and was at the hearing on Monday.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Claire Mercer has campaigned against the use of smart motorways since her husband's death

In a statement, Highways England said it was "determined" to do everything it could to make roads as safe as possible and was already addressing many of the points raised by the coroner "as published in the Government's Smart Motorway Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan of March 2020".

"We will carefully consider any further comments raised by the coroner once we receive the report," it added.

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