Tuesday 14 July 2020

Time called on dynamic ‘smart’ motorways

No new ‘smart’ motorways with dynamic hard shoulders are to be built, according to Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan. He said the roads, on which hard shoulders are opened to traffic when congestion occurs, were “too complicated”.

The transport secretary Grant Shapps announced a review into smart motorways in November last year, after the coroner at the inquest into the death of Dev Naran wrote to Highways England demanding to know what measures it was taking to prevent traffic from hitting vehicles that were stranded on motorways when there was no hard shoulder in operation.

Dev Naran, aged eight, was killed when a truck hit a car in which he was a passenger, which had pulled up on a ‘smart’ section of the M6 in May 2018. The hard shoulder was being used as a running lane at the time.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that the Highways Agency’s response was a commitment to spotting stationary vehicles, “subject to funding,” and a four-phase publicity campaign explaining what road users should do during an emergency on the hard shoulder, and the meaning of the ‘lane closed’ red X symbol on overhead gantries. The response also confirmed that no more dynamic smart motorways would be built.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) recently argued that better refuge areas – which are placed at intervals along the routes for emergency stops – and clearer signage, would make the motorways safer.

“Motorways are still our safest roads and we want to keep them that way, but smart motorways are not as safe and reliable as they should be,” said Richard Burnett, RHA chief executive. “We need larger and more frequent refuge areas on the network and better use of signage to ensure drivers understand when hard shoulders are closed to active running.”

The RAC has also called on Highways England to increase the frequency of refuge laybys on existing smart motorways to two per mile. Currently, they are at 1.55 mile intervals. Truck operators point out that it is difficult to accommodate a full-length artic and a heavy recovery vehicle within the length of the existing refuges.

Five people died in 10 months on a 16-mile ‘smart’ section of the M1 in 2018- 19 after being hit by vehicles running on the hard shoulder. Speed cameras on the same stretch reportedly raised £6 million in fines in three years.

Sam Cockerill, whose recovery operator partner Steve Godbold was killed on a ‘smart’ section of the M25 in 2017, has founded the Campaign for Safer Roadside Rescue & Recovery, one of the objectives of which is reform of the ‘smart’ motorway system. It is supported by former transport minister Sir Mike Penning, and other MPs.

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