Research uncovers dangers of breaking down on a smart motorway
It takes an average of 17 minutes to spot a broken down vehicle on a smart motorway when automated stationary vehicle detection (SVD) systems are not in place, according to new research.
Motoring group the AA uncovered a March 2016 report by Highways England, which runs the UK’s motorway network, that indicated that more than a third of incidents took more than 15 minutes to be discovered, with one incident taking more than an hour.
All Lane Running (ALR) motorways – better known as ‘smart motorways’ – replace the hard shoulder with an extra lane to improve traffic capacity and use overhead signage to warn of obstructions. Operators have a three-minute window to put up warning signs after spotting an incident.
The AA says that a recent Freedom of Information request showed that of the 135.1 miles of ALR motorway in England, just 24.2 miles were covered by SVD systems. Those without automated systems require operators to spot hazards on CCTV cameras.
Furthermore, the AA found an entry in the Highways England report that said the hazard risk of stopping in a live lane at off-peak times – when traffic is lighter but speeds are higher – increases by 216 per cent.
Edmund King, AA president, said: “This is a truly shocking revelation and shows just how dangerous it can be breaking down in a live lane. This highlights why growing numbers of the public are justified in their safety concerns over the removal of the hard shoulder.
“Ultimately, until you are found by the camera you are a sitting duck.
“Taking three minutes to set the red ‘X’ 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.
“The safer stationary vehicle detection technology should have been rolled out before any expansion of all lane running was even considered. We are now three years on since their fully throated commitment to installing stopped vehicle detection to all schemes but only 24 miles has the system in place.
“We must stop removing the hard shoulder immediately and double the number of emergency refuge numbers already in place.”
In response, a spokesperson at Highways England said: “The evidence is clear that smart motorways improve safety, with or without automatic stopped vehicle detection systems.
“The latest generation of smart motorways have helped to improve safety by at least 25 per cent.
“Our trials on the M25 have shown that a stopped vehicle detection system can be a valuable extra tool to help spot incidents more quickly, and the technology is being designed into all the smart motorway projects that we start constructing from next year.
“Meanwhile we are looking at how we could provide the same benefits on all our other recently opened smart motorway upgrades and work on installing a stopped vehicle detection system on the M3 smart motorway in Surrey and Hampshire is already underway.”