King calls smart motorway breakdowns 'terrifying' as safety boost stalls

Chris Ames

The president of the AA has criticised Highways England for not acting quickly enough to improve safety on ‘smart motorway’ all lane running schemes, including shortening the distance between emergency refuge areas for broken-down vehicles.

Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan told the Times last week that all new smart motorways will have emergency areas (previously emergency refuge areas or ERAs) a mile apart, rather than a maximum of 1.5 miles at present.

This repeats a pledge Mr O’Sullivan made last January in a letter to Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Transport Select Committee, that maximum distances between emergency areas would be reduced ‘on all future ALR [all lane running] schemes’ in order to reassure drivers.

However, the Government-owned company told Highways that the change will apply to ‘schemes being designed from 2020’, stressing that it was ‘to help drivers feel more confident’. It denied that this represented a delay, pointing out that Mr O'Sullivan referred to 'future' schemes and that its recent communications have specified 2020.

Speaking to Highways, AA president Edmund King noted that this means the safety improvement, which nevertheless leaves emergency areas around twice as far apart as on the first smart motorway on the M42 (up to 800m), will not apply to the M4 scheme, on which major works began after Mr O’Sullivan’s letter.

Mr King said that although the M42 scheme was deemed to be relatively safe and worked well, ‘when the Government and Highways England decided to roll-out the concept of smart motorways on the M25/M1 etc they did so by moving the goalposts without any consultation'.

He added: 'The spacing between ERAs was increased more than three times the length to every 2.5km Every time we have been told they are safe.

'They might be safe but they could be safer. If more ERAs are built in at the planning stage it is relatively inexpensive but would reduce the risk of drivers getting stranded in a live lane of traffic. It would also reduce congestion as a stranded vehicle in a live lane has a massive knock-on effect in terms of congestion. It also means that drivers could be recovered more quickly and more safely.

‘We have been told that the spacing will now be every mile but that doesn’t apply to the M4 while in the planning process despite us raising this at the very early stages of the scheme.’

Another issue over the specification of all lane running schemes is the roll-out of technology that uses radar specifically to detect vehicles stopped in live lanes, which then speeds up the process by which Highways England can, in theory, close lanes using red X signs on overhead gantries.

A Highways England spokesperson told Highways: ‘Stopped Vehicle Detection is in place on the two M25 all lane running sections and we are preparing to install the system on the M3 junctions 2 to 4 upgrade, with work starting in 2019.’

The spokesperson reaffirmed a pledge made by roads minister John Hayes in a November 2016 letter to Mr King to roll-out stopped vehicle detection across existing and new all lane running schemes.

But the spokesperson added a further qualification: ‘We will have a detailed roll-out programme once we have fully considered all the necessary potential technology solutions to ensure the most efficient and speedy implementation.’

A Highways England image showing a car passing under a red X 'lane closed' sign

Mr King described his recent experiences on smart motorways, including an incident on the recently opened M3 scheme, which does not yet have stopped vehicle detection: ‘Only yesterday I saw the terrifying sight of a lady driver stranded on the inside lane of the M3 smart motorway attempting to get an elderly lady out of the car.

‘I hadn’t seen a red X but there was a warning of “Reported obstruction ahead” and a 40mph limit. If that driver had seen an ERA in all probability she should have got out of the live lane. It was frightening.

‘Last week I saw a small car had driven up a steep embankment off a smart motorway to get out of live traffic. I have listened to calls from drivers stranded in live motorway lanes and it is certainly not an experience I would not like to encounter; nor should anyone else.’

Highways jobs

2 x Environmental Health Officer (Food, Health & Safety)

Dacorum Borough Council
£31,218 to £39,786 (Inclusive of London Fringe Weighting) + Car Allowance   
Seeking to appoint 2 x fully qualified Environmental Health Officer’s to work within our... Hertfordshire
Recruiter: Dacorum Borough Council

Senior Traffic Engineer

East Riding of Yorkshire Council
£32.029 - £34.788
We seek an enthusiastic and experienced traffic engineer to manage our Traffic Team. East Riding of Yorkshire
Recruiter: East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Head of Asset Management (Regeneration & Environment)

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
£55,856 - £59,773
We have a current vacancy for the role of Head of Asset Management, and we are looking for a dynamic individual to lead the service Rotherham, South Yorkshire
Recruiter: Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council

Environmental Education Assistant

Brent Council
£22,779 - £24,030 p.a. inc. (pro-rata)
Looking for instructors who complement our enthusiastic, motivated and friendly staff team. Brent, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Brent Council

Structures Asset Manager

Kent County Council
£52,713 - £58,774 per annum (salary dependent on experience) 
If you have the ability to succeed in either of these roles and are able to prioritise competing demands and objectives, coupled with... Ashford, Kent
Recruiter: Kent County Council

Structures Senior Engineer

Kent County Council
Starting salary £33,082 per annum
Providing engineering support for maintenance of highway structures, liaising and working closely across KCC. Ashford, Kent
Recruiter: Kent County Council

Development Management Engineer

Warwickshire County Council
£37,849 - £39,782 per annum
The successful applicant for this post will be capable of taking the lead on work within the team associated with... Warwickshire
Recruiter: Warwickshire County Council

Permit Officer – Place

Enfield London Borough Council
£27,228 - £29,241
You will have the ability to understand and learn relevant legislation and be able to work on your own initiative but also work as part of... Enfield (London Borough), London (Greater)
Recruiter: Enfield London Borough Council

Senior Policy Planner

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£32,643 – £45,704 depending on skills
Are you looking for working arrangements that enhance your work-life balance? London (Greater)
Recruiter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Strategic Manager Highways and Transport

Isle of Wight Council
£65,620.00 to £70,915.00
Are you are looking for an ambitious and rewarding career move to one of the best places to live and work in the country? Isle of Wight
Recruiter: Isle of Wight Council

Community Services Manager

Copeland Borough Council
Competitive Salary
Looking for an energised and enthusiastic candidate to lead and focus the service through the challenges set by the Resources and Waste Strategy. Moresby, Whitehaven
Recruiter: Copeland Borough Council

Highways Infrastructure and Maintenance Manager - Highways Network

Bridgend County Borough Council
£37,813 - £40,760 per annum
An exciting opportunity has arrived inside the Highway Asset Maintenance Team within the Communities Directorate. Bridgend (Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr)
Recruiter: Bridgend County Borough Council

Business Support Officers - Transport Team (2 Jobs)

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£19,554 - £21,166
Within the Transport Team you will be required to work flexibly in accordance with the needs of the service, which can men... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Transportation Planning Manager

Brent Council
£55,638 - £58,779 p.a. inc.
ou will have an excellent knowledge and understanding of transport policy at both local and national level. Expertise of both people and... Wembley, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Brent Council

Commercial Contract Supervisor

Wirral Borough Council
£30,507 to £32,878
No holding back. No excuses. Just change Wirral. Wirral, Merseyside
Recruiter: Wirral Borough Council

Technical Officer – Pest Control

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£19,554 - £23,836
This job is temporary for up to 11 months from the date of appointment to cover the absence of the current post holder. Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Divisional Director Neighbourhoods & Sustainability

Glasgow City Council
£83,708 - £95,232 (LDR3a, Grade 11)
This innovative role will contribute to the Council Strategic Plan Theme of A Sustainable Low Carbon City Glasgow, Glasgow City
Recruiter: Glasgow City Council

Business Support Officer - Bereavement Services

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£18,795 - £19,171
You will be required to work front line with customers who are ordering memorials, our customers may be... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Principal Transport Manager

Be First
Competitive Salary
As our Principal Transport Manager, you will deliver the Local Implementation Plan, ensuring the £2.4million TFL budget is used effectively London (Central), London (Greater)
Recruiter: Be First

Highway Operations Manager

Croydon London Borough Council
£43,590 - £45,585
We are seeking an enthusiastic, motivated and well organised highway operations manager Croydon (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recruiter: Croydon London Borough Council

Highways on Fridays

Register now!

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

Valuing our roads: What is a network worth?

Also inside:

Traffex review 

Diary of a flood.

Beautiful roads

Live Labs exclusive briefing 

View the latest issue

Latest Video