Smart motorway almost killed me: Motorist broke down on road without hard shoulder… then lorry smashed his van to bits

  •  Ben French cheated death when his van broke down on a smart motorway 
  • The crash happened on a new ‘all-lane running’ section of smart motorway 
  •  Yesterday the Mail revealed further concerns about safety standards on the M6

A motorist cheated death when his van broke down on the inside lane of a smart motorway and was smashed into by a lorry.

The accident spread debris across the M6, and emergency rescue workers feared anyone in the van had been killed.

But miraculously electrician Ben French, 28, was pulled from the wreckage alive and is recovering at home a week later.

Carnage: The scene of the horrific crash on the M6

Carnage: The scene of the horrific crash on the M6 

The crash happened on a new ‘all-lane running’ section of smart motorway, in which the hard shoulder is used as a live traffic lane. Campaigners want them banned for safety reasons following a series of fatal crashes.

Yesterday the Mail revealed further concerns about safety standards on the M6. Ten miles of the motorway from junction 21a near Warrington to junction 26 near Wigan will be turned into a smart motorway with emergency refuges up to 1.5 miles apart – contravening safety guidance from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

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Following a review in March last year, Mr Shapps said the emergency bays should be between three quarters of a mile and one mile apart. But Highways England has admitted it will not fully comply with the new standards.

Mr French, of Cheslyn Hay, Staffordshire said: ‘I am lucky to be alive. I should be dead.

‘I was on the phone talking to the lads at work looking in the wing mirror when I said, ‘f***, there’s a lorry coming’. ‘I could only sit and watch and wait.

‘I was helpless and could only brace myself seconds before it ploughed into me.’

Mr French, a father-of-one, will be off work for three months as he recovers from near-fatal injuries which include a fractured pelvis and collarbone, punctured lung and broken rib.

He had been driving home after a work trip to Preston when he had a tyre blow-out near junction 17 of the M6. He pulled over on the inside lane because there was no hard shoulder. Commenting on the controversial road design, Mr French said: ‘They should be scrapped.

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‘They are putting cost in front of lives. ‘I drive all over the country. It’s just a cheap and easy way of keeping traffic moving instead of building an extra lane on the motorway. It’s a stupid idea.’

Mr French’s partner, Charlotte Ashford, was distraught for four-and-a-half hours until she learned he had survived. The couple have a five-year-old son, Charlie. ‘I thought I had lost him,’ said Miss Ashford, 27.

‘I just broke down in tears. He should be dead, everyone at the scene thought he was dead. Looking at the picture of the accident made me feel sick. I have no idea how he survived.’

Ben French will be off work for three months

Ben French will be off work for three months 

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, which attended the scene with three engines at 2pm on February 16, said the driver of the lorry managed to get out of his vehicle unaided.

Firefighters pulled Mr French from what was left of his van and he was taken to the Royal Stoke University Hospital.

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The Department of Transport has not produced any accident figures for this section of the smart motorway network, which was completed two years ago.

But safety reports on two other smart motorway sections of the M6 have seen increases in collision rates.

Last month, a coroner ruled the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the deaths of two drivers – Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Morgeanu, 22 – on the M1 near Sheffield in 2019.

Another coroner in South Yorkshire referred Highways England to prosecutors to consider a corporate manslaughter charge over the death of grandmother Nargis Begum, 62, who was killed when her car broke down on the M1 with no hard shoulder and was hit by another vehicle.

There were 14 deaths in 2019 on motorways where hard shoulders are full-time or part-time lanes, up from 11 in 2018 and five in 2017. 

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