Polish trucker Ryszard Masierak was twice the legal alcohol limit when he fell asleep at the wheel of his truck in the inside lane of the M1 near Newport Pagnell, 50 miles north of London in August last year.
It was 3am but despite the hour the motorway — which is the main north-south artery in England — was busy with traffic.
A minibus containing 11 passengers on their way from Nottingham to London to catch a coach to Disneyland Paris tried to overtake the truck but was forced to wait, with its hazard lights on.
BREAK: Lorry driver Ryszard Masierak, 31, has been jailed at #Aylesbury Crown Court for 14 years for causing a crash that killed eight people and seriously injured four others on the #M1 on August 26 last year. —PA— NewsmanMike (@MikeBreaking) 23 March 2018
Suddenly British trucker David Wagstaff's vehicle loomed out of the darkness and plowed into the back of the minibus, pushing it under Masierak's truck.
Girl, Four, Orphaned by Crash
One of the survivors was a four-year-old girl, Shravathi Karthikeyan, who was orphaned by the accident.
M1 CRASH SENTENCING— HeartMKNews (@HeartMKNews) 23 March 2018
2 lorry drivers have been jailed over the 8 on the M1 last Aug.
Polish national Ryszard Masierak (pictured) must serve 14 years for causing death & serious injury by dangerous driving.
David Wagstaff, 54, has 40 mths for causing death by careless driving pic.twitter.com/LWAwkUn3KP
The trial at Reading Crown Court heard Masierak's truck had been stationary for 12 minutes, but this had not been noticed by any Highways Agency patrol or by their control room.
Pete Williams, the RAC's road safety spokesman, said if that stretch of the M1 had been a "smart motorway" the truck would have flashed up and a sign would have warned traffic of the obstacle ahead.
Highways England is rolling out a program of converting major arterial routes into "smart motorways", starting with sections of the M25, London's orbital motorway, and the M3 which runs between London and the port of Southampton.
The program involves digging up the entire motorway and putting special sensors underneath the tarmacadam surface.
Ryszard Masierak, convicted of a total of 12 counts of causing death, and serious injury, by dangerous driving in M1 crash that killed 8 people, "should not have been driving" as professional licence had been revoked, @ThamesVP reveals. He and David Wagstaff sentenced on March 23 pic.twitter.com/pryZBZqSQG— Police Professional (@PoliceP) March 7, 2018
Motorway Sensors Can Spot Vehicles Not Moving
These sensors form what is known as the Motorway Incident Detection Automatic Signalling or Midas system, which can immediately detect if the road is blocked, triggering flashing red X signs above the carriageway.
"Midas would detect the presence of a stationary vehicle and would have then closed that lane. This incident would have set alarm bells ringing," Mr. Williams told Sputnik.
The smart motorway projects are controversial, partly because of the disruption involved in installing the sensors, and partly because under the new system the "hard shoulder" is removed and motorways become a four-lane road.
Ch Insp Andy Storey from @tvprp says lorry driver Ryszard Masierak had his professional driving licence revoked before a crash which killed eight people on the M1 near Newport Pagnell last August. pic.twitter.com/RHWXW8SLvb— BBC Look East (@BBCLookEast) March 7, 2018
Instead of the hard shoulder, there are Emergency Refuge Areas every 1.5 miles and cars or trucks that break down have to be able to limp as far as the nearby ERA.
"Our view is that there is a need for additional capacity in our congested nation and this is the most cost-effective way of doing it. But we have genuine concerns about having no hard shoulders and we have pressed for the ERAs to be closer together," Mr. Williams told Sputnik.
The RAC is one of the biggest breakdown services in the UK and their mechanics usually carry out repairs on the hard shoulder.
Under the new system they will have to stop just ahead of the broken down vehicle and hope that other drivers notice the red X sign and avoid that carriageway.
Masierak was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and was jailed for 14 years at Aylesbury Crown Court on Friday.
Judge Francis Sheridan told him he was "an unmitigated, persistent if unaccomplished liar."
"What you have tried to do is blame everyone and everybody except yourself," the judge told Masierak.
Wagstaff, from Stoke-on-Trent, was acquitted of the more serious charge but was jailed for 40 months after admitting causing death by careless driving.
"You took no action whatsoever because you weren't concentrating on what was in front of you — they were there to be seen and you didn't see them," Judge Sheridan told Wagstaff.
Masierak was banned from driving in the UK for 17 years and Wagstaff lost his license for three years.
Smart motorways are great because the roads are full of smart drivers, oh wait😬.— Jacob Alexander. (@Jhill_72) 21 March 2018
"This is a tragic case and our sincerest condolences go to the families and friends of those involved," said a Highways England spokesman.
"Safety is at the heart of everything we do and our motorways are among the safest in the world. This was an entirely preventable incident but sadly it also highlights how important it is to be fully vigilant when driving on the road network, even more so at night," he added.