A second coroner has written to National Highways expressing concerns over the risk of deaths on smart motorways, a year after two fatalities prompted a coroner to demand action was taken.

The latest report to prevent future deaths has been produced by Berkshire’s assistant coroner Ian Wade QC after motorcyclist Zoltan Torok died on a smart motorway stretch of the M4 last year.

In the report, Wade said Torok had become distracted by the presence of two motorists who had left their Land Rover following a breakdown and were standing beyond the roadside barrier due to there being no hard shoulder.

Wade said: “He rode into the rear of the stationary Land Rover without decreasing his speed, causing catastrophic multiple injuries from which he died in the highway.”

The report said an inquest into Torok’s death heard from a police collision investigator who said the accident would not have occurred if the broken down car had been able to pull out of the running lane into a refuge, or onto a traditional hard shoulder.

The investigator said the hazard created by the Land Rover was compounded by the unexpected proximity of the occupants from the vehicle standing immediately next to the running lane.

The report said: “The court heard evidence from an experienced qualified mechanical engineer, a fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, with over 40 years of professional engagement in the motor industry, that the policy of mixing smart motorways with traditional hard shoulder motorways created a latent risk that road users will become accustomed to treating the left or inner lane of motorways as a live running lane even when it remains a conventional hard shoulder, thereby endangering road users who have to pull off the road onto the hard shoulder.

“The essential purpose of a motorway as a multi-lane high speed direct communication between locations likely to be long distances apart is both undermined and has a tendency to potentiate risks to road users, if the running lanes are liable suddenly and unexpectedly to become blocked in a dynamic situation, with no refuge available to the stranded vehicle.”

Wade added that National Highways had the power to take action in order to prevent future deaths.

His report follows a similar one sent to the transport secretary and National Highways in January 2021 following the deaths of Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu on a smart motorway stretch of the M1 when they were struck by an HGV driven by Prezemyslaw Szuba.

At the time, coroner David Urpeth said the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the tragedy.

David Bray, National Highways programme director, confirmed that it had received Wade’s report and said: “Every road death is a tragic loss of life and our condolences are with Mr Torok’s family and friends.

“The safety of our network is of the utmost importance to us. We will carefully consider the coroner’s report and will respond to the coroner in detail in the coming weeks.”