Police commissioner claims M1 safety upgrade ignores the problem

A South Yorkshire police commissioner has claimed that National Highways’ commitment to add an additional emergency refuge area (ERA) to a dangerous stretch of the M1 does not “adequately address” concerns about the stretch of road.

Last week it was revealed that an additional ERA will be added to a section of the M1 in South Yorkshire after an independent review of 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.

However South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Alan Billings said the addition of the ERA is not enough.

“One extra refuge on a 13 mile stretch of motorway will not adequately address the concerns that I and others have repeatedly raised. Neither will it protect lives," he said.

“It remains my view that all lane running motorways are inherently dangerous. Any vehicle that stops in a live lane is immediately putting lives at risk. Not all vehicles break down conveniently close to refuge areas so in my view adding one more still leaves those who break down dangerously unprotected on the M1 in South Yorkshire.”

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 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.

Undertaken by Atkins and Jacobs, the M1 review 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.

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

But the number of serious injury collisions per year has 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.

National Highways maintains that in terms of fatality rates, smart motorways are the safest roads in the country. The roads operator said that all road journeys involve risk, but the chance of death on smart motorways is less than on any other major road.

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris added: “We do understand the strength of feeling about safety on this section of the M1 and are committed to making further improvements. That is why we commissioned an independent investigation of the factors which have contributed to incidents.

“Our report details the measures we have completed and those we are developing to take forward.”

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