Coroner questions 'smart motorways' after 8-year-old killed on M6
14 October 2019, 08:21
A coroner has requested answers regarding safety on so-called smart motorways, after overseeing the inquest of an eight-year-old boy who died when a lorry struck the stationary car he was in, according to a report.
Dev Naran, from Leicester, died instantly on a hard shoulder being used as a smart motorway lane on the M6 in May last year after his grandfather's Toyota Yaris was struck by a lorry travelling at 56mph.
Emma Brown, the West Midlands area coroner, said she wanted information from Highways England on how it can improve detection of stranded motorists after the inquest last week, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
The coroner expressed concerns about a "risk to life from the loss of the hard shoulder" in conjunction with a lack of technology to spot lone stationary vehicles, the paper reported.
A Highways England executive told the inquest the company was testing a radar system to detect stationary vehicles and said currently they rely on a call from the public, police or an employee watching live CCTV.
A recent study has suggested more than half of UK motorists avoid the hard shoulder on smart motorways at some point.
It is not known why Dev's grandfather Bhanuchandra Lodhia, 70, stopped on the occasional hard shoulder with his hazard lights on, staying stationary for 45 seconds before being struck.
The child's devastated parents, Meera and Dilesh, want a review on smart motorway safety, telling the paper: "Why have people not been taught about these smart motorways?"
Mrs Naran, 35, said: "I have lost my son and my family has been destroyed. My father and the lorry driver have to live with what happened for the rest of their lives.
"I keep coming back to how this accident would not have happened if there had been a proper hard shoulder."
Hundreds of miles of motorways across England have been converted into smart motorways, meaning the hard shoulder is used as either a permanent or part-time running lane.
Red Xs are used to indicate when a lane is closed, such as when a vehicle has broken down away from emergency laybys.
Motoring groups have warned they create a safety risk as vehicles that break down in live lanes risk being hit from behind.
But a Highways England spokesman said research shows smart motorways lead to fewer collisions and reduced congestion.
He added: "First and foremost our deepest sympathies are with the family of Dev Naran and those affected by this tragic incident.
"Smart motorways include more features than conventional motorways to further enhance safety, and both are significantly safer for drivers than other roads.
"Any death on our network is one too many and we take our responsibilities very seriously."
The spokesman added: "The coroner stated that there was no evidence of any legitimate reason for the Toyota Yaris stopping in a live lane.
"We cannot urge drivers strongly enough to ensure they only stop on the motorway in an emergency and to then follow published advice, found at highwaysengland.co.uk/motorways, about what to do next.
"We are awaiting the coroner's report which we will review."
A KwikFit study last month of more than 2,000 UK drivers suggested 56% of UK motorists admitted avoiding the hard shoulder on smart motorways at some point, even if overhead gantries said that it was open for use.
Almost a third of those who said they avoid an open hard shoulder said they did so because they weren't sure when to use it, while a quarter said that they were concerned that a stationary vehicle could be ahead.