Highways England Faces Criminal Charges Over Smart Motorways Death
On 11 February, a coroner referred Highways England to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider if corporate manslaughter charges are appropriate regarding the tragic death of Nargis Begum in 2018.
The grandmother died on a stretch of the M1 without a hard shoulder following a collision when she got out of her car to wait for help when her car broke down. At a pre-inquest review, the senior coroner Nicola Mundy said the length of time the stationary car went undetected on CCTV footage was one of her decisions to refer the case to the CPS.
In March 2020, a smart motorways action plan was published by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to include:
- abolishing the confusing "dynamic hard shoulder" smart motorways, where the hard shoulder operates only part-time and is a live running lane the rest of the time;
- substantially speeding up the deployment of "stopped vehicle detection" technology across the entire "all lane running" smart motorway network, so stopped vehicles can be detected and the lanes closed more quickly;
- increasing traffic officer patrols on those smart motorways where places to stop in an emergency are more than one mile apart to reduce the average attendance time when a vehicle is stopped from 17 minutes to 10 minutes;
- reducing the distance between places to stop in an emergency to 3/4 of a mile where feasible so that on future schemes motorists should typically reach one every 45 seconds at 60mph. The maximum spacing will be 1 mile;
- installing more emergency areas on the existing M25 smart motorways and considering a national programme to install more;
- making emergency areas more visible;
- installing more signs to direct motorists to emergency areas;
- committing £5m extra to improve public information and awareness about smart motorways and what to do in an emergency, more than doubling previously planned spend.