On Wednesday June 16, the MPs at the Transport Select Committee grilled engineers, transport planners and road safety experts about the decisions which shaped the rollout of smart motorways.
Rebecca Needham, Road Safety Officer (England) at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents was among the expert witnesses called forward to give their views on the current state of the smart motorways network and discuss how safety can be improved.
At the committee hearing, Rebecca highlighted a number of pressing safety issues which RoSPA is urging the government to take action on. A key issue raised at the evidence gathering session was the apparent lack of public awareness about smart motorways.
of more than 2000 UK adults, conducted in early 2021, revealed that less than 50 per cent of the public said they knew how to drive on smart motorways and further 25 per cent reported that they did not know what a smart motorway was.
So what is a smart motorway?
A smart motorway is a section of road that uses active traffic management (ATM) techniques to increase capacity by use of variable speed limits, and the hard shoulder is used as a live traffic lane at busy times, or on some schemes, at all times.
There are three main types of smart motorway:
Dynamic hard shoulder (DHS):
This system, currently in operation on the M42, M1, M6 and M5, means that the hard shoulder is sometimes used as an extra lane if traffic flows are heavy. Motorways with dynamic hard shoulder running have a solid white line to differentiate the hard shoulder from the normal carriageway. Emergency refuge areas are available on these motorways, offering motorists a place to stop in the event of an emergency. In 2020, the Government announced that all dynamic hard shoulder schemes will be converted to all lane running by 2025.
All lane running (ALR):
This type of motorway uses the hard shoulder as a permanent “live” running lane for traffic. All running lanes have broken white lines, with the former hard shoulder only being closed in an emergency. Emergency refuge areas are available on these motorways, offering motorists a place to stop in the event of an emergency.
These have three or more lanes with variable speed limits controlled by electronic signs, but a normal hard shoulder that may only be used in a genuine emergency.
What are RoSPA’s safety concerns with smart motorways?
The most controversial aspect of the UK smart motorway network is the removal of the hard shoulder. This is because it limits the options of a driver that needs to exit live traffic if they get into difficultly. Statistics show that on all lane running motorways, around 40% of breakdowns occur in a live traffic lane.
An investigation by the BBC’s Panorama
has revealed that at least 38 people have been killed on the UK’s smart motorway network since 2015. The figure – recorded over five years – is significant because it only makes up a small proportion of the total miles of the country’s road network.
According to the Department for Transport’s evidence stocktake, which looked at the first nine all lane running schemes before and after their introduction, total live lane collisions have increased from an average of three per year before the ALR was introduced to an average of 19 per year after the motorway had been converted to ALR.
At the Transport Select Committee meeting, Rebecca Needham outlined a number of areas where action was required to improve safety on the smart motorway network:
You can watch the Transport Select Committee hearing on smart motorways here.
You can read more about RoSPA’s advice about driving safely on smart motorways here
- Ensuring there is an emergency refuge placed at intervals of a least 1 mile and every ¾ of a mile where feasible.
- Around 40% of breakdowns on all lane running motorways occur in a live lane Stopped Vehicle Detection should be installed on all stretches of smart motorway ASAP.
- These enhanced safety measures should be retrofitted to the existing smart motorways and incorporated into the design of future stretches of road.
Posted: 6/18/2021 1:03:59 PM