Smart M-way crash that killed two ‘would not have happened with hard shoulder’

The collision happened on the M1 near Sheffield in March 2019.

Dave Higgens
Wednesday 05 April 2023 16:39 BST
Smart motorway (Steve Parsons/PA)
Smart motorway (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)

A crash on a smart motorway which left two pensioners dead would not have happened if there had been a hard shoulder, a coroner has said.

Derek Jacobs, 83, died when his van was hit by a car on the M1 near Sheffield in March 2019 after he had stopped in the live inside lane following a tyre blow-out and got out of the vehicle.

The front seat passenger in the Ford Ka that hit the van, Charles Scripps, 78, died in hospital two months after the collision.

The red car, being driven by Mr Scripps’s wife Jean, was shown on dashcam footage flipping over in the carriageway and ending up on its side before it was hit by a coach.

It is immediately apparent that, had there been a hard shoulder, this incident would not have occurred because Mr Jacobs would have been able to pull off the live lane entirely

Susan Evans

Concluding that both men died as a result of a road traffic collision, assistant coroner Susan Evans told Chesterfield Coroner’s Court: “Smart motorways are hugely controversial because of the lack of any hard shoulder for motorists to use in times of need such as occurred here.

“It is immediately apparent that, had there been a hard shoulder, this incident would not have occurred because Mr Jacobs would have been able to pull off the live lane entirely.”

But the coroner added: “That said, there are many roads in the road network, including dual carriageway A-roads, that are subject to the national speed limit and do not have the benefit of any hard shoulder.”

She heard there was no evidence that Mrs Scripps took any action to avoid the collision, despite the fact Mr Jacobs had parked his van almost touching the crash barrier on the far left of the carriageway.

Miss Evans said: “It is evident Mrs Scripps simply did not see the stationary van before she collided with it.

“For reasons we will never know, she appeared to have not been paying attention to the road.”

Giving evidence on Wednesday, collision investigator Sergeant Paul Moorcroft said: “It is highly, highly unlikely this collision would have taken place had there been a hard shoulder.”

The inquest heard that Mr Jacobs’s van was stationary in the live lane for three minutes and 34 seconds before it was hit by the Scripps’ car.

Distraction or a prolonged period of inattention by Mrs Scripps was the main causation factor in this collision

Sergeant Paul Moorcroft

Sgt Moorcroft said the retired engineer had pulled his van over so it was only protruding into the carriageway by about 65cm and the Ford could have passed it without going into the second lane.

He also told the inquest his analysis showed that retired teacher Mrs Scripps, who was 77 at time, had plenty of time to see the obstruction and many other drivers had taken avoiding action.

The officer said footage of the incident showed no signs of her steering or braking to avoid the collision.

Sgt Moorcroft said: “My opinion is that distraction or a prolonged period of inattention by Mrs Scripps was the main causation factor in this collision.”

He told the inquest Mrs Scripps had not been interviewed due to her health and the inquest heard medical evidence that she was diagnosed with dementia six months after the crash.

But there was nothing in her medical notes at the time of the collision that suggested she should not be driving, the inquest heard.

Sgt Moorcroft said that Mr Jacobs, of Edgware, north London, stopped on the northbound carriageway just north of junction 30 on March 22 2019.

He said this was 500 metres short of the next emergency refuge and about a mile from Woodhall Services.

Simon Boyle, regional director for National Highways in Yorkshire and the North East, told the inquest the area is now covered by technology to detect stationary vehicles.

He said the technology was not installed on this stretch of the M1 at the time of the collision.

Asked if it would have made a difference, he added that he could not say whether Mrs Scripps would have seen the signs which would have been deployed warning of an obstruction, or if she would have acted accordingly.

Mr Boyle admitted there had been “human error” in the control room after a member of the public reported the stationary van 44 seconds after it stopped.

He said this meant warning signs were not deployed until eight minutes after the call. He said the aim is for deployment within three minutes and the average in his region was two minutes and 15 seconds.

Mr Boyle said: “I don’t believe you can fully eradicate human error. Unfortunately, humans are operating and mistakes are going to be made.”

The coroner said in her conclusion: “Certain parts of the response to this particular incident by National Highways was slow, much slower than expected, and I heard that this was due to human error.

“A report was actually made by a member of the public extremely quickly and initially acted upon quickly to dispatch a traffic patrol.

“Unfortunately, however there was a significant delay in progressing the next step which was to activate signs and speed restrictions.

“I have considered whether this delay may have contributed to the deaths of Mr Jacobs and Mr Scripps but there is no evidence that it did so.”

Retired maintenance manager Mr Scripps had multiple injuries and died in May 2019 after being transferred from a hospital in Sheffield to one nearer his home in Northampton.

The collision is one of three on a 10-mile stretch of the M1 near Sheffield which have been highlighted by campaigners who want smart motorways stopped and hard shoulders restored.

Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu died in June 2019 when they were hit by a lorry on the M1 near junction 34 after they stopped on the inside lane of the smart motorway section after a minor collision.

Sheffield coroner David Urpeth decided that Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu were unlawfully killed, and said: “I find, as a finding of fact, it is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy.”

In 2018, mother-of-five Nargis Begum died after she got out of the passenger side of a car on the M1 north of Woodhall Services and it was hit by a Mercedes.

Speaking outside court, Mr Mercer’s wife, Claire, who has spearheaded the campaign against smart motorways, said: “We had something before that was infallible. The hard shoulder was just always there and didn’t make mistakes and we’ve replaced it with something that isn’t always there and does make mistakes.

“And that was a conscious decision. They have designed danger into a smart motorway.

“This is the third inquest for a total of five people now, all within a very short stretch of motorway, all very similar in occurrence. And this is just the ones we know about.

“It keeps happened all around the country and nothing is changing.”

Mrs Mercer said Mr Jacobs’s wife Susan decided not to come to the inquest as she felt National Highways would not be held to account.

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said: “Our deepest sympathies remain with the families of Mr Jacobs and Mr Scripps, and all those affected by this tragic incident.

“It is vitally important to learn lessons from every road traffic collision and we will continue to build on the work and safety improvements already under way, taking all the necessary steps to help drivers and passengers feel and be safe.”

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