Family Of Sheffield Mum Nargis Begum And Lawyers Welcome Coroner’s Call
The family of a mum killed in a smart motorway crash are warning of their danger after a coroner demanded highway bosses take action to improve their safety.
Coroner Nicola Mundy has written to National Highways telling it to take action to increase public awareness of the roads to prevent future deaths.
It follows an inquest into the death of Nargis Begum, aged 62. The mum-of-five and grandmother-of-nine was fatally injured in a crash after the vehicle she was a passenger in had broken down on a stretch of the M1 near Sheffield classed as an all lanes running smart motorway (ALR) – which have no hard shoulder.
Lack of public understanding about smart motorways
In a prevention of future deaths report Ms Mundy said there was a “lack of public understanding” regarding the need for people to call National Highways if they spotted a stranded vehicle.
Despite advertising campaigns across TV, radio and social media, there had been “a lack of emphasis” around how road users had a “responsibility to alert the authorities to such problems.”
National Highways hadn’t appeared to treat raising public awareness as a “priority” and the messaging did not appear “to have effectively reached the public,” Ms Mundy said.
It comes after more than 150 vehicles passed Nargis’s vehicle but none reported the breakdown to authorities before the fatal collision.
Family and lawyers welcome coroner's safety call
The coroner’s comments have been welcomed by Nargis’s family and their legal team at Irwin Mitchell.
National Highways now has until November 4 to outline what measure it will take to reduce deaths on smart motorways.
Expert Opinion“The issues around smart motorways safety are well documented and have been brought into question once again.
“The last four years and trying to come to terms with Nargis’s death has been incredibly difficult for her family.
“Each smart motorway casualty isn’t just a statistic. Behind every number is a story of human tragedy, with what happened to Nargis the starkest reminder of this.
“Sadly we continue to hear too many first-hand accounts of how families have been ripped apart following collisions on these roads which cover some of the busiest routes in the country.
“While it’s too late for Nargis’s family we welcome the coroner’s comments and the need for National Highways to take urgent action to improve the safety of these roads. The prevention of future deaths order adds to the groundswell of opinion that smart motorway safety has been compromised and that more still needs to be done to protect road users.
“We’re determined to do everything we can to support Nargis’s family and others we represent so no stone is left unturned in improving road safety. Our focus now turns to supporting them in the civil courts to provide them with all of the answers they deserve.” Christopher Kardahji
Smart motorways: Nargis Begum's story
Nargis, of Darnall, Sheffield, died in September 2018 after the Nissan Qashqai she was a passenger in broke down on the M1.
She and her husband Mohammed Bashir, 69, who had been driving, exited their vehicle and were waiting for help to arrive when another vehicle then collided with their vehicle causing the Nissan to plough into Nargis.
The inquest was told that the Nissan had been stranded in lane one for more than 16 minutes with its hazards lights on before the other vehicle smashed into it.
During that time 153 drivers had passed the stationary Nissan but nobody in any of the vehicles had alerted Highways England – as National Highways was known at the time – or the emergency services.
One driver giving evidence at the hearing said he had been driving for more than 50 years and didn’t realise drivers had a responsibility to alert the authorities to a stranded vehicle. They believed cameras monitoring the roads would pick up stranded vehicles.
Doncaster Coroner’s Court was told Mohammed had climbed over the barrier but his wife, who had arthritis, was unable to.
A traffic officer who attended the fatal crash told the inquest that he saw drivers stranded on smart motorways daily, including that he once saw seven cars break down in live lanes in one day. On one occasion he came across a motorist who had been stranded in a live lane for more than 90 minutes, the court heard.
Coroner finds lack of hard shoulder contributed to smart motorway death
The coroner recorded a conclusion that Nargis died as a result of the road traffic collision. She added that the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to Nargis’s death.
One of Nargis’s children Saima Aktar, 40, arrived at the scene to find paramedics trying to save her mum.
Nargis's family campaign to improve smart motorway safety
She said: “Mum was such a loving and caring person who had time for everyone. Even after a hard day her positive energy made us all smile and kept us strong. She always saw the best in people and nothing was ever too much bother for her.
“Since her death our family has never been the same. There is a gaping hole in all our lives. Even four years on it remains difficult to accept she’s no longer with us and isn’t here, helping and guiding us through life. Family occasions and celebrations are not the same knowing there is an empty place where Mum should be.
“We feel our family should have had many years still ahead of us to create lasting memories but it’s difficult not to think these have all been snatched away because of what happened to her.
“That hundreds of people drove past Mum before she was killed but didn’t report she and Dad needed help is truly staggering. In no way do we blame them. What it highlights is the shocking nature in which motorists have been allowed to drive on these roads for years without proper safety awareness and being made aware of how they operate and what they need to do in case of an emergency.
“While there may be cameras on these roads what happened to Mum shows people can’t rely on these. These cameras may not be watching you or the road so we urge people to take ownership of a situation they may come across and report it. It’s better for the authorities to have to deal with a lot of calls than none. It’s difficult to think that if people knew this information four years ago Mum may still be alive
“Our family have had to go through the most unimaginable pain for this detail to come to light. Nothing will ever replace the hurt and anger we feel but it’s vital that there’s now more public awareness of these roads. We just hope that by continuing to speak out we can help contribute to lasting change to protect others.”
Other smart motorway legal cases
Irwin Mitchell is also representing Claire Mercer, of Broom, Rotherham, whose husband Jason, 44, was killed in a separate crash on the M1 near Sheffield classed as a smart motorway.
Irwin Mitchell is investigating bringing a separate judicial review against National Highways on Claire’s behalf calling for the hard shoulder to be reinstated on all existing ALRs.
Jason, 47, and 22-year-old Alexandru Murgreanu, from Mansfield, were killed when they were knocked down by a lorry shortly after the pair was involved in a minor collision near junction 34 of the M1 near Meadowhall in June 2019. The pair had pulled over to the roadside as far as they could.
Last year an independent expert report commissioned by Irwin Mitchell into smart motorways found all-lane running (ALR) smart motorways – roads which have no hard shoulder - “had the lowest level of intrinsic safety” when compared to any other form of motorway. It also stated that the risk of being involved in a live lane breakdown on an ALR was 216 per cent higher than on a standard motorway, as there was no hard shoulder for drivers’ refuge in the event of a collision or breakdown.
A lack of previous public consultation around the introduction of the roads was identified in the 220 page report which took transport planning specialists at Royal HaskoningDHV more than a year to research.
Find out more about our expertise in supporting people and families following collisions on smart motorways at our dedicated road accidents section. Alternatively to speak to an expert contact us or call 0370 1500 100.