A CORONER has warned that smart motorways “present an ongoing risk of future deaths”, following an inquest into the deaths of two men who died on a stretch of the M1 with no hard shoulder.
Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, were tragically killed when a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed into their vehicles after they stopped on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield.
Jason was killed instantly when a HGV hit him in June 2019
The Sheffield coroner warned that a lack of hard shoulder contributed to the tragedyCredit: Google
Alexandru Murgeanu was apparently exchanging details with Jason when the pair were hit and killed
Sheffield coroner David Urpeth recorded a conclusion of unlawful killing after the tragic deaths of Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22.
Mr Urpeth said: “I find, as a finding of fact, it is clear a lack of hard shoulder contributed to this tragedy.”
The coroner said the primary cause of death of Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu on the M1 was the careless driving of lorry driver Prezemyslaw Szuba, who ploughed into their vehicles as they stood stationary in lane one following a minor shunt.
The tragedy has prompted the coroner to write 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.”
The lorry driver killed the two men when his truck ploughed into their vehicles on a stretch of smart motorway.
Today he told an inquest he believes he would have avoided them if there had been a hard shoulder.
Szuba, 40, from Hull, was jailed for 10 months in October last year after admitting causing the deaths of Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu by careless driving.
Answering questions from prison, Szuba told the hearing he accepted that 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.
Szuba told the inquest at Sheffield Town Hall he only had 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.”
Jason’s Mercers widow, Claire Mercer has previously said the “correct person” was not taking “responsibility” for the death of her husband Jason.
Mrs Mercer said Highways England were at fault for her husband’s death.
She accused the body of only thinking about “the next big contract” rather than the safety of motorists.
Mrs Mercer told Sheffield Crown Court: “We don’t believe the correct person is taking responsibility for this massive detrimental effect on ours and so many other people’s lives.
“The events of June 7 would not have taken place if there had been a hard shoulder and Highways England was run with the correct priorities in mind, not concentrating on who wins the next big contract.’’
Claire, who has been a prominent campaigner against smart motorways since her husband’s death, watched proceedings in court with her legal team.
Prezemyslaw Zbigniew Szuba, 40, was jailed for 10 months in October last year after admitting causing deaths by careless driving
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.”
However, Brady accepted that the primary cause of the crash was Szuba’s inattention to the road.
Asked by the coroner whether he thought this collision would have been avoided if there was a hard shoulder, he said: “My honest opinion is that it is too close to call. I can’t say it’s more likely than not.”