Second fatal crash on ‘smart motorway’ stretch of M1 near Sheffield leads to safety concerns

Concerns have been raised as to the safety of the ‘smart motorway’ on the M1 near Sheffield following the second fatal crash in six months.

The M1 motorway near junction 31 for Aston, where there is no hard shoulder.
The M1 motorway near junction 31 for Aston, where there is no hard shoulder.

A man was killed in a crash on the M1 northbound between junction 30 for Barlborough and junction 31 for Aston on Friday.

Police said the 83-year-old’s white Volkswagen Crafter had stopped in lane one and was hit by a red Ford Ka, which was then hit by a coach.

It comes after a woman was killed on the same stretch of motorway after she got out of a broken down car on September 9, 2018.

Roadworks on the M1 motorway when the smart motorway was being introduced looking north towards junction 30.

The accidents were both on a stretch of the motorway where there is no hard shoulder – known as an all lane running system.

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy at The AA, said: “We have very serious concerns about the all-lane running system and the incident on Friday highlighted our concerns.

“If you are in a breakdown scenario, it increases the likelihood of a vehicle breakdown in a live lane. The incident raises the question as to whether it was pretty instantaneous or if the van was sat there for three or four minutes that raises a whole host of other questions.”

Mr Cousens said the motoring organisation was also concerned there was no ‘penalty’ for drivers who fail to observe ‘red Xs’ on overhead gantries, which signify lane closures in the event of an accident or breakdown.

Smart motorways see overhead gantries install temporary speed limits.

He added: “For the past two years, Highways England have been sending out warning letters to people for not observing the red X but there is no penalty for it at present.

“There are plans that it will lead to a £100 fine and three points but that’s got to be approved by the Home Office.”

He said The AA was also concerned about the number of emergency refuse areas – the laybys where people can get their vehicles off the carriageway – on the stretch of the M1 near Sheffield.

Mr Cousens added: “The analogy that we use is the same as Disneyland uses for rubbish bins – if people can see a bin they are likely to put rubbish in it but if they can’t, they’re likely to drop litter.

“It’s the same for all lane running motorways – if people can see a layby they will try and get to it, if not they will panic.

“Our roads should be the safest in the world but the all lane running motorway system compromises that.”

Noel Wade, who commutes everyday from junction 31 at Aston to junction 33 for Catcliffe, said he would often see stranded vehicles on the stretch.

He said: “What I am concerned about is Highways England have the technology to identify a speeding driver but they don’t have the technology to identify a slow moving or stranded vehicle.

“I find it completely unacceptable that they have introduced a system where there is no hard shoulder. I know you’re not completely safe but it’s a lot safer than being in a live lane.”

Police said they believed Friday’s crash may have been caused by a mechanical fault on the Volkswagen van.

And in the crash in September, the woman, aged 62, was a passenger on in a grey Nissan Qashqai which broke down, one mile north of Woodall Services.

Mr Wade said: “I have seen vehicles stranded and I am surprised that there has not been more multiple car collisions with multiple fatalaties.

“There is no escape. You can’t escape from a lorry bearing down on you at 50mph.”

When The Star went out on the stretch of the M1, which now runs as a ‘smart motorway’, Highways England said staff in its Wakefield control room monitor traffic every minute of every day across Yorkshire and the North East and can direct its team of on-road traffic officers to incidents.

Russell Brierley, on-road team manager, said: “I don't personally see it as more dangerous. I think there are quite a lot more signs and signals out here on the roads and as long as people obey them they are safer but that's the factor we can't control.”

"I just wish people would keep up to date with the Highway Code.”

In a statement, Highways England said: “Our thoughts are with everyone involved in the incident. A police investigation is currently underway and once this is concluded we will be able to provide further comment.”