Coroner: smart motorways must be reviewed

Smart motorways present “an ongoing risk of future deaths” and a review into their safety should now be undertaken, a coroner has concluded.

Following an inquest into the deaths of two men on the M1 in South Yorkshire, Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said he would write to the transport secretary and Highways England explaining that the use of hard shoulders as a live traffic lane was confusing and dangerous.

HGV driver Prezemyslaw Szuba was jailed for 10 months in October last year for causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving. Szuba was travelling along the M1, near to Junction 34, in June 2019, when he collided with Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu, killing the two men instantly. Both drivers had been involved in a minor collision moments earlier and they had pulled over to exchange details.

Urpeth said the contributory factors in the two men’s deaths were multi-faceted and included the initial collision, as well as their decision to park up on an active motorway, rather than reach an emergency refuge area. However, Urpeth added: “I think many drivers would feel they have to stop after a collision, so although unwise, I believe it is understandable.”

He found that the primary cause of the crash was Szuba’s inattention, but he also said that the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the tragedy.

Following the inquest, the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, Dr Alan Billings, said he had written to the transport secretary calling for smart motorways to be abandoned.

Skip4U dumped out of industry for wide-ranging failings

A West Midlands operator’s “utter failure” to address its wide-ranging compliance failings has led to the disqualification of both the company and its director.

Traffic Commission Nicholas Denton said the failure of director Sukhchain Singh to take any personal responsibility at Skip4U meant that it deserved to be put out of business. He said the company had a very high MOT outright failure rate and it had not operated a written defect reporting system - until a DVSA vehicle examiner made a visit to its Smethwick premises - something it tried to cover up at a Birmingham PI by claiming its transport consultants had taken them all away.

TC Denton said Skip4U had failed to observe drivers’ hours and tachograph rules and Singh himself had committed numerous centrefield errors. Missing mileage reports were not up to date; tacho charts were not collected on time and driver cards were not downloaded at the correct intervals. The TC added that the director had no understanding of the drivers’ hours rules.

In a written decision, he said the company had had many opportunities to make improvements, but it ignored them. He said: “An audit carried out by their consultants in June 2019 found numerous and serious instances of non-compliance. The DVSA vehicle examiner found very similar issues in February 2020 and a further audit in July 2020 by the consultants reported that no improvements had been made. The director, Sukhchain Singh, has sought to throw all responsibility for the lack of action on the consultants. He has taken no responsibility for, or apparent interest in, complying with the requirements.”

The TC said one positive was that Singh had attended an O-licence management course in December 2019, but he appeared not to have retained any knowledge from it. And he added that the negative issues far outweighed the positives.

Revoking the licence, he said: “Because of the wide-ranging nature of the issues and the company’s utter failure to address them effectively, I am disqualifying both the company and its director from holding or obtaining an operator’s licence in future. This is the operator’s first inquiry, but the scale of the non-compliance is such as to warrant a disqualification in the mid-point of this range: ie two years.”