Concerns over smart motorway safety

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The AA has uncovered a report, first published in 2016, that claims smart motorways could be 216% more dangerous for drivers who have broken down.

 

The report differs from information given to the Transport Select Committee in 2016 who were told that Stopped Vehicle Detection Systems (SVDS) would be rolled out across all sections of smart motorways.

 

SVDS is only in place on a few parts of the road network, with some not due to be completed until 2022. SVDS warns Highways England of any danger, enabling it to turn on the lane closure signs. 

 

The AA has learned that of the stretches of motorway that do have the SVDS fitted, it’s sometimes taking too long to activate the safety measures in place. 

 

Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “Taking three minutes to set the red-X (the sign on the gantry that closes lanes and advises of stopped vehicles) is too long for someone in a broken-down vehicle to wait. Expecting someone to wait in a dangerous and life-threatening position for 20 minutes is simply inexcusable.”

 

Highways England responded with a statement. Chief highway engineer Mike Wilson said: “Motorways in this country are among the very safest roads in the world. Highways England would never carry out a major improvement scheme without being confident that we would maintain or enhance this position.

“Evidence indicates that smart motorways are helping to improve safety. The first nine of the latest generation of smart motorways have reduced casualty rates by more than 25%.

 

“Smart motorways are good for drivers, adding vital extra lanes to some of our busiest motorways and making journeys safer and more reliable. As with other roads, we monitor the safety performance of smart motorways and are rolling out enhancements to improve the road user experience.”

 

Highways England also said that smart motorways are reducing casualty rates. It also claims that more than a hundred people are killed or injured on the hard shoulder every year, and people stopping on them unnecessarily is an issue. 

 

Smart motorways have emergency areas a maximum of 1.5 miles apart – around 75 seconds of driving. They have emergency telephones and are wider than hard shoulders to enable drivers to get further away from traffic.

 

Highways England says that the information that smart motorways increase risk by 216% is incorrect – smart motorways were predicted to reduce safety risk compared to conventional motorways and evidence states:

 

  • The figure is an estimate made before the schemes were built and relates to one specific hazard relating to the risk associated with stopping in a live lane when there is little traffic

  • This is one of over 140 hazards that exist on a motorway when driving. Other includes, driving too fast, driver fatigue and the risks associated with hard shoulders

  • Many of these hazards are reduced by the introduction of smart motorways, but as we have always said the risk around stopping in a live lane increases, but this represents less than 5% of the overall risk of driving on a smart motorway

  • This same analysis showed that overall there would be around an 18% reduction in risk – this has been shown in practice with a reduced casualty rate with completed schemes of 28%.

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