Lack of hard shoulder on M1 smart motorway 'contributed' to grandmother's death

An inquest was held into the death of Nargis Begum.

The lack of a hard shoulder on a stretch of smart motorway contributed to the death of a 62-year-old grandmother from Sheffield, a coroner has ruled.

Nargis Begum died in September 2018 after she was hit by a car while waiting for help on the side of the M1 in South Yorkshire.

The mother-of-five had got out of the Nissan Qashqai her husband was driving after it broke down near Woodall Services. A Mercedes crashed into their stationary car, causing it to hit Mrs Begum.

An inquest into her death heard that 153 drivers passed the stranded car before the crash had happened and none of them alerted National Highways to the incident.

Senior Coroner Nicola Mundy told Doncaster Coroner's Court that if these drivers had reported the incident then lane closures could have been put in place to prevent Mrs Begum's death.

A previous investigation by South Yorkshire Police into possible corporate mansalughter charges against Highways England – the predecessor to the current body National Highways – concluded the agency could not be held criminally responsible because it did not owe road users a "relevant duty of care" under the law.

On Friday, 9 September, on the final day of the inquest, the coroner concluded that the absence of a hard shoulder and the lack of any report from other drivers both contributed to Mrs Begum's death.

The death has been recorded as the result of a road traffic collision.

The inquest, which lasted four days, heard how the Nissan had driven past an emergency refuge by about 250 yards and was stranded on the live lane undetected for 16 minutes before the fatal crash.

Ms Mundy said that many members of the public appear to wrongly believe that the dozens of cameras on smart motorways were being constantly monitored by control room staff.

One witness told the inquest how he did not report the stationary Nissan because he thought it would be picked up by the cameras.

National Highways staff, including chief executive Nick Harris, said constant camera monitoring was not practicable. The coroner has said more needs to be done to educate the public and will be writing to National Highways to discuss this.

Mr Harris told the inquest that technology which can detect more than 80% of stranded stationary vehicles within 20 seconds was being rolled out on so-called smart motorways by the end of this month.

The inquest previously heard Mrs Begum's daughter, Saima Aktar, call smart motorways "dangerous and flawed".

After the inquest, a National Highways spokesperson said: "Our deepest sympathies remain with the family of Mrs Begum, and all those affected by this tragic incident.

"Every road death is a devastating loss of life and we are absolutely committed to making our roads as safe as possible.

"National Highways has an ongoing programme of road safety campaign activity. This is intended to provide important guidance to drivers to make journeys safer, easier and more reliable."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.