Lorry Driver Admits to Causing Deaths of Two Men on Smart Motorway

A lorry driver has admitted to causing the deaths of Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, and Jason Mercer, 44, when his lorry collided with their stationary vehicles on the M1 near Sheffield on 7th June 2019.

The case has become a leading example of the safety issues of smart motorways. The widow of one of the victims, Claire Mercer, heads the ‘Smart Motorways Kill’ campaign group which campaigns against smart motorways which utilise all running lanes.

Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu had pulled over in the slow lane following a minor accident on the northbound highway of the M1, between junctions 34 and 35. They were then both struck by a lorry driven by Prezemyslaw Zbigniew Szuba.

Prezemyslaw Zbigniew Szuba, 40, admitted to two counts of causing death by driving without due care and attention when he attended Sheffield Magistrates’ Court. He will be sentenced this month.

This offence can be tried in either the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. If convicted the court can impose imprisonment (maximum of 5 years in the Crown Court/maximum 6 months in the Magistrates Court) and/or a fine. Whatever the court decides the court must also disqualify the driver for a mandatory minimum period of 12 months (or 3-11 points where special reasons are found not to disqualify the driver).

Safety Concerns of Smart Motorways

The controversy surrounding smart motorways with all running lanes is they replace a hard shoulder with an active lane, this can result in those who break down being left in a vulnerable position in relation to other road users, and at worst, can result in other vehicles colliding with their stationary vehicles as they wait for help.

The BBC reported earlier this year 38 people had been killed on smart motorways in the last 5 years. Of equal concern, Panorama had discovered via an FOI request of Highways England that on one section of the M25, there had been a 20-fold increase in ‘near misses’ since the hard shoulder had been removed. A near miss is recorded each time there is an event with “the potential to cause injury or ill health”.

Although 38 deaths in 5 years may not seem like a large number when compared to the number of deaths of road users in general in the last 5 years, this is a significant number considering smart motorways only make up a very small portion of UK roads. The circulation of alarming statistics and tragic stories such as the case above has resulted in mounting pressure on the government to reconsider the expansion of smart motorways, and to review how smart motorways operate.

In response to commentary in the media criticising smart motorways, the government released a statement of their current position in relation to smart motorways, and updated their guidance on ‘how to drive on a smart motorway’ in March. Perhaps of most interest, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on 12th March 2020 an action plan to boost the safety of smart motorways. With work focusing on getting assistance to broken down vehicles and making the scheme less confusing.

Some of the key points of the action plan include:

  • An 18 point of measures to improve safety and public confidence
  • plans to abolish ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ motorways to end confusion  
  • ‘stopped vehicle detection’ to be rolled out at pace and places to stop in an emergency spaced closer together