Highways England pledges further action on smart motorway safety

27/09/2019

Highways England has pledged a range of actions including retrofitting programmes to help reassure road users of the safety of all lane running smart motorways after coming under pressure to step up its game.

A spokesman told Highways there would be a programme to retrofit every all lane running scheme with some form of SVD solution but could not give dates for the programme.

‘We are developing a technology roadmap to determine what solutions are available for roll out and where best to employ them. We are however, in the meantime retrofitting SVD on the M3 Junctions 2 to 4A,’ he said.

Highways England added: ‘All lane running (ALR) schemes that are currently scheduled to start construction after March 2020 will have a stopped vehicle detection (SVD) solution.

‘Stopped vehicle detection is part of a package of safety measures that keep road users safe, including CCTV, sensors to monitor traffic volumes, emergency areas and SOS phones. Just because SVD is not installed does not mean the road is unsafe.’

At the time of writing Highways is still waiting to hear if a similar retrofitting programme will apply to the spacing of refuge areas but was told ‘there is no immediate justification to install additional emergency areas on other operational sections of all lane running’.

After pressure from the Transport Select Committee, Highways England said that for all schemes starting construction from 2020 onwards, the maximum spacing of emergency areas would be reduced from 1.5 miles to 1 mile (1.6km), providing more frequent places to stop in emergencies.

It added: ‘We are finalising the design for extra emergency areas at 10 locations on the M25 between Junctions 5 and 6 on the Kent/Surrey border and Junctions 23 and 27 on the Herts/Essex border. These are being added to help road users feel safer about stopping in an emergency. We aim to have completed this work by the end of 2020 calendar year.

‘The chosen locations have the greatest spacing of existing emergency areas and the highest level of reported live lane breakdowns. Once completed, the distance between the areas will be less than one mile.’

Highways England also confirmed that together with Home Office and the Department for Transport, it has introduced a delayed change in legislation, which allows the automated detection of Red X offences using camera equipment. This means the police can prosecute any such offences. The updated systems are expected to roll out soon.

The Government-owned company has been hit by a wave of criticism and a potential corporate manslaughter case from the widow of a driver who was killed in a crash on a smart motorway.

Highways England’s own analysis reveals that it can take 17 minutes to spot a broken down vehicle when SVD systems have not been installed and out of the 135.1 miles of smart motorways in England, only 24.2 miles are covered by SVD – around 18% – which uses radar to identify stationary vehicles in real-time.

Widow Claire Mercer accused Highways England of failing to provide drivers with a safe place to stop and pull over and neglecting to implement adequate systems to detect a stationary vehicle in order to protect drivers stopped between lanes of fast-moving traffic.

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