Technology can be used to improve our lives in countless ways, and that includes on the road.
Smart motorways are just the latest example of this. They use technology and other measures to cut congestion, such as by opening the hard shoulder.
Smart motorways, which use technology to maintain the flow of traffic and give information on overhead displays, have existed in England since 2002.
The “all lane running” versions – which involves opening the hard shoulder permanently to drivers – began in 2014.
Smart motorways have a number of positive elements to them. Evidence shows us that variable speed limits facilitate a reduction in traffic jams, and the ability to provide dynamic messaging is welcome.
Yet we have serious concerns about the implications of removing the hard shoulder – and the potential dangers that causes to our members who work on the road in transport, haulage or road safety.
Community recently submitted a response to a Transport Committee consultation about smart motorways, where we shared our concerns.
There have been a number of publicised serious accidents where cars have been stopped in the inside lane of a smart motorway and have been hit by a vehicle travelling behind. Though the red X signage system is in place, it is clearly insufficient.
Furthermore, the distance between refuge areas prevents those in vehicles that have broken down from being able to reach a place of safety, particularly in the case of sudden engine failure.
The operation of refuge areas is not widely known or understood by the public. Particularly concerning is the lack of understanding that support from Highways England is required to re-enter the traffic.
Although there is evidence that smart motorways are safer than ordinary motorways, this is because of the controls on speed, not because of the removal of hard shoulder, which has been a factor in a number of well publicised tragic accidents.
This can be seen in the Department for Transport analysis which shows that controlled motorways (the type with hard shoulder) have fewer fatal casualties and serious casualties than all lane running motorways (without a hard shoulder).
In a recent written statement, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that there will no more smart motorways without additional safety measures including radar to detect stopped vehicles, and it will be rolled out to existing smart motorways by September 2022. There will also be cameras to make sure that when drivers ignored closed lanes they can be prosecuted.
We welcome this announcement, as it will make our road users safer, but these new measures don’t go far enough: they won’t be implemented soon enough, and to be fully effective in improving safety they must re-instate the hard shoulders.
Grant Biggerstaff, IDU Community National Health & Safety Representative, says:
“It’s great to see that the government has listened to the President of the AA Edmund King the SURVIVE industry working group and IDU Community Union and has said that the new smart motorways will not be able to open without additional safety measures to spot broken down vehicles quickly, and that existing smart motorways will receive the technology sooner than planned.”
Safety on our busiest roads is of paramount importance. There are over 35,000 serious injuries and 1,700 fatalities on Britain’s roads every year. To protect our people who keep the country moving, we need our hard shoulders back.