Coroner urges National Highway to improve smart motorway safety

A senior coroner has urged National Highways to take action to improve smart motorway safety.

Nicola Mundy wrote to the Government-owned company to express concern that 153 vehicles passed a stranded car before a fatal collision on one of the roads without a hard shoulder.

Mother-of-five Nargis Begum, 62, had got out of the passenger seat of a Nissan Qashqai on the M1 in South Yorkshire when a Mercedes car, which appeared to take no avoiding action, collided with the stationary car, causing her fatal injuries.

Nargis Begum
Nargis Begum was killed in the crash (Irwin Mitchell/PA)

After conducting an inquest into Mrs Begum’s death at Doncaster Coroner’s Court in September, Ms Mundy sent a report to prevent future deaths to National Highways.

The senior coroner wrote that there is a “lack of public understanding” regarding the need to contact the authorities about stationary vehicles on motorways.

She described how the message “does not appear to have been a priority” in public awareness campaigns about smart motorways, adding: “There is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken”.

National Highways must respond to the report by November 11.

At the inquest, Ms Mundy recorded a conclusion of “road traffic collision” and ruled that the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to Mrs Begum’s death.

She heard how the Nissan had driven past an emergency refuge on September 9 2018 by about 250 yards and was stranded on the live lane undetected for 16 minutes and 21 seconds before the fatal crash.

Ms Mundy expressed concern that many members of the public appear to wrongly believe that the dozens of cameras which are in place on smart motorways were being constantly monitored by control room staff.

She said one witness told the inquest how he did not report the stationary Nissan because he believe it would be picked up by the cameras.

A number of National Highways directors and employees, including chief executive Nick Harris, told the coroner that this was not practicable, and the coroner asked whether more could be done to educate the public about this fact.

Speaking after the publication of the coroner’s report to National Highways, Mrs Begum’s daughter, Saima Aktar, 40, said the number of people who drove past the Nissan without making a report was “truly staggering” but “in no way do we blame them”.

She went on: “What it highlights is the shocking nature in which motorists have been allowed to drive on these roads for years without proper safety awareness and being made aware of how they operate and what they need to do in case of an emergency.

“While there may be cameras on these roads, what happened to mum shows people can’t rely on these.

“These cameras may not be watching you or the road, so we urge people to take ownership of a situation they may come across and report it.”

Christopher Kardahji, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, representing Mrs Begum’s family, said: “We welcome the coroner’s comments and the need for National Highways to take urgent action to improve the safety of these roads.

“The prevention of future deaths order adds to the groundswell of opinion that smart motorway safety has been compromised and that more still needs to be done to protect road users.”

Nick Harris, chief executive of National Highways, said: “Mrs Begum’s death was a tragedy and our sympathies remain with her family and friends.

“We have an ongoing programme of road safety campaign activity, intended to provide important guidance to drivers to make journeys safer, easier and more reliable. I have also set work in train to explore extra actions we and partners might take to further increase awareness among the public of what they can do if they spot someone in difficulty on any road.

“We remain committed to helping drivers and their passengers be even safer and feel safe on all our roads, including smart motorways.”