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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Deadly stretch of M1 smart motorway to undergo safety upgrade

National Highways has agreed to upgrade a notoriously dangerous stretch of the M1, after a number of breakdown collisions resulted in serious injuries and fatalities on the road since it was converted to a smart motorway.

An additional emergency refuge area (ERA) will be added to the stretch of the M1 in South Yorkshire after an independent review into the motorway highlighted a “cluster of live lane breakdown collisions”.

The ERA will be located between Woodall Motorway Services and junction 31 – the same stretch of road where grandmother Nargis Begum was tragically killed in September 2018 after her car broke down.

The M1 smart motorway has been under increasing scrutiny, following a number of high-profile collisions and deaths.

In March 2019, 83-year-old Derek Jacobs also died on the road, between junction 30 and Woodall Services. He pulled into the left-hand lane when his car developed a mechanical fault but was struck by another car, which was then hit by a coach.

Two more people were killed on the junction 30 to 31 section in April this year. The stretch of road is part of the wider M1 junctions 30 to 35 smart motorway.

A further three fatal collisions have been recorded across junctions 30 to 35 up until 2019. In January, an inquest concluded that the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the deaths of two men, Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu, near junction 34 in June 2019.

Published this week and undertaken by Atkins and Jacobs, the M1 review recommends installing an additional ERA to the section of motorway to reduce the spacing between existing refuge areas.

National Highways confirmed the ERA will be installed by the end of July 2022.

The review also recommends improving forward visibility of the carriageway by further removing vegetation in a nearside verge. National Highways said this will be taken forward and the maintenance regime will be amended, subject to environmental considerations.

The report recommends a total of 14 actions to improve safety on the full M1 junctions 30 to 35 smart motorway. To date National Highways has completed three of these, including resolving flooding and drainage issues.

The roads operator has committed to take forward seven further measures, which include the Woodall Services to junction 31 actions and installing messaging signs and road marking.

It will keep under review three recommendations regarding the junction 33 northbound exit slip road, and one recommendation regarding lane destination markings on the junction 32 to 31 section will not be taken forward.

There will, however, be no additional ERAs installed between junctions 32 and 35. Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said she is "appalled that National Highways has failed to commit to real safety improvements on this lethal stretch of road".

She added: "Fundamentally, it was the lack of a safe refuge that led to the death of Jason Mercer. Despite acknowledging the alarming rise in serious and fatal incidents, none of the measures proposed in the report will address this fatal flaw.

"No additional refuges will be built the hard shoulder will not be returned, and motorists will continue to run huge risks should they break down or be forced to stop.”

Overall, the review found that the average numbers of collisions per year have decreased since the M1 junctions 30 to 35 smart motorway opened, due to a fall in the number of slight injury collisions.

However, the number of serious injury collisions per year have increased, and fatal injury collisions have increased from one in three years to three in three years for the junction 32 to junction 35 section. Accordingly, the ratio of fatal and serious injury collisions has increased.

Collision cluster locations were identified between Woodall Services and junction 31, between junction 31 and junction 32, and on the northbound approach to junction 33.

The report is among a number of other investigations published, which examine the M6 junctions 5 to 6, M1 junctions 10 to 13 and M1 junctions 39 to 42.

AA president Edmund King welcomed the publications.

He said: “We are pleased that the investigations into the M6 and M1 collision hotspots which we raised with the Department for Transport (DfT) and National Highways several years ago, have now been completed and action will be taken to help reduce collisions.”

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris emphasised that the roads operator is “determined to reduce the number of fatal incidents, and injuries, on our increasingly busy motorways".

He added: "We are making good progress delivering the actions set out in the transport secretary’s 2020 smart motorway stocktake.

“As part of that, we committed to investigate any contributing factors to a number of incidents on sections of the M1 and M6.

“We analysed independent reviews and identified a series of potential measures of which the extra emergency area is one and we are developing a detailed programme of work where other measures are required.”

The ongoing incidents have led to calls for more frequent ERAs and increased safety measures to detect broken-down or stopped vehicles.

In February, transport secretary Grant Shapps revealed that the roll out of Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) technology will be accelerated across the smart motorway network. He admitted that it was “entirely wrong” to convert motorways into ALR without the SVD technology in place.

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