Highways England has met a pledge in its Delivery Plan to carry out a large-scale trial of a CCTV-based alternative to its existing stopped vehicle detection (SVD) system.
The news follows concerns that stopped vehicles in live lanes remain highly vulnerable on all lane running ‘smart motorway’ schemes and an admission by Highways England’s chief engineer that radar-based SVD, which the company is committed to installing across its smart motorway network, is only effective in low flow conditions.
This week a coroner concluded that the operation of a smart motorway all lane running scheme had been a contributing factor in the deaths two drivers on the M1 in 2019. It also faces a possible prosecution over an earlier incident involving a female car passenger.
The action plan for the Government’s evidence stocktake on smart motorways noted that Highways England had run a small-scale trial of a system that analyses CCTV images. It stated: ‘As a result of this evidence stocktake, Highways England will launch a large-scale trial of this technology.’
The company’s 2020-25 Delivery Plan subsequently stated: ‘We will also complete, by December 2020 a large-scale trial of a system that analyses CCTV images.’
A spokesperson told Highways: ‘We committed to completing a trial of a system that analyses CCTV images as another option alongside stopped vehicle detection by December 2020. We have completed this and are now considering the findings.’
The Delivery Plan added: ‘The trial will identify the viability of using our CCTV coverage on smart motorways to provide another option alongside stopped vehicle detection.’
Highways England has confirmed that this refers to its existing ‘pan tilt and zoom’ CCTV cameras and that one of the issues with this is that these cameras do not cover all of the motorway all of the time.
Despite being labelled ‘smart’, most all lane running sections of motorway (where the hard shoulder has been removed) rely on CCTV coverage to detect stopped vehicles, as well as ‘MIDAS’ sensors that detect when other traffic has slowed.
Highways England’s own data has shown that it can take an average of 17 minutes to detect a stationary vehicle in a live lane.
This month the company began the first project in a programme to retrofit radar-based SVD across its network by March 2023. This system is currently in operation on two sections of the M25 and on a recently opened smart motorway section of the M3, a retrofitting scheme that predated the stocktake.