Smart motorways

Some constituents asked me to take up the issue of accidents on smart motorways where a vehicle has come to a halt on the inside lane.

The Transport Secretary responded to general concern and held an inquiry. The investigation showed that smart motorways have lower risks of tailgating, rapid changes of speeds and vehicles drifting off the carriageway which can all create accidents on conventional motorways. However, as we thought there is more risk of collision with a stationary vehicle.

The government will speed up the introduction of stopped vehicle radar detection to give immediate warnings and lane closure signs. They will also put in more stopping places off highway, spaced at not more than 0.75 mile apart or every 45 seconds at 60mph on some new schemes with a maximum of 1 mile separation elsewhere. Additional pull offs will be added to the M25, with consideration of other changes also for the M1 and M6 where there have been incidents.

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9 Comments

  1. Alan Jutson
    Posted March 17, 2020 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Why not simply remove the inside lane barriers where the ground levels are the same, so you can get the vehicle out of the live lane rapidly
    Saves money on the build, and is immediate.

    Existing refuges are too far apart and not large enough, if you are unfortunate to have to pull in one you have to slow down rapidly, then when leaving there is not enough length to get up to speed to rejoin the running lane.

    If there is a vehicle already broken down in the refuge you are absolutely snookered.

    My wife refuses to use smart motorways at all, she thinks they are a death trap, waiting to happen. I agree, if you do break down on a running lane then the driver has to leave the car by exiting the car into the second running lane, whilst the inside lane barrier obstructs the full opening of the passenger door, utter madness.

    Who was the dope who thought this up !!, who was the other dope who passed it ?

  2. Dave
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Smart motorways smack of desperation. Inadequate planning and financing plus an anti motoring attitude in government mean that roads have been hugely under funded for decades. Now the agenda is to force people off the roads and a few extra deaths is good for the propaganda mill.

  3. Lester Beedell
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Don’t break down in an electric vehicle!
    It comes to a halt, no free-wheeling and can’t be towed!

  4. Richard Molyneux
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    There are currently adverts on the radio explaining that a sign on a motorway displaying a red cross means that the lane ahead is closed and you should, when safe move, out of this lane. If it is deemed necessary to have to explain this very obvious sign its no wonder that smart motorways are seen to be unsafe or is it the motorway users?

  5. BOF
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    More tinkering!

    The only safe solution is to introduce a continuous refuge area, otherwise known as a Hard Shoulder.

  6. Colin Iles
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    This proposed (lack of) action is just not good enough.

    These (un)smart motorways are death traps
    Please take into consideration the fear that everyone I have spoken to has about breaking down whichever lane they are in as there is no escape route. This is a regular topic of conversation these days.
    The Advanced Driving Test preparation training used to strongly advise you to perpetually calculate what action you would take in the event of a disruption to normal motoring.
    That guidance never did expect all the following drivers to have passed the test already!
    We avoid all motorways whenever possible.

  7. lojolondon
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I was caught at 53 on the M1 in an area that had been reduced to 40 mph for no reason at all. So I opted to attend a “safe motorway course” rather than take the 3 points. I asked about the recent statistics of deaths on “smart motorways”, and was told that there are “statistics” showing that fewer deaths occur per vehicle per mile on these roads.

    BTW, are you aware that while you can “coast” a petrol or diesel powered car that cuts out, with electric cars there is no such opportunity. When electric cars cut out, they stop dead and cannot be pushed, they need to be either charged where they are or lifted and carried to safety. So we have not even seen the beginning of the bad news yet.

  8. Mark
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    My experience of smart motorways is that there can be sharp changes of speed limit often with very little warning. Given the reputation of the speed cameras for being set aggressively, this leads to sharp braking, which in turn actually produces tailbacks because of the way in which braking lines of vehicles propagates through the traffic. I have seen several accidents caused by concertina shunts in heavy traffic where the cars behind have been caught out by driving too close and funding the car in front brakes hard. There are also all too many cases when unnecessarily low speed limits are being imposed long after the event that caused them to be imposed has gone. This builds frustration among drivers, who tend to unleash it by driving aggressively in the next section of road beyond the smart section, in turn giving rise to accidents which are of course not blamed on the rage created by the smart section.

    I would suggest that where a speed limit is being reduced, it should be done in stages in time and space where possible (perhaps by making the limit advisory rather than compulsory initially), and in any event speed cameras should not test at the lower limit for some tens of seconds after it is imposed to reduce the need for unnecessarily sharp braking to comply with the law. I would also suggest that imposing lower limits at junctions doesn’t really help. Traffic adapts to traffic conditions without needing nannying to that extent. It behaves better when the restrictions are seen to have good reason.

    I have found that it pays to check on the traffic conditions up ahead on a route. It is usually much better to plan a diversion than be caught up in a jam. I think more thought needs to be given to this in road side signage. “J14-16 long delays” messages on gantries don’t really convey the same message as the colour coded map at the Highways England website, or using traffic overlays on other maps. It would make our motorways a lot smarter if we knew in advance when not to use them by having this information sufficiently in advance of junctions, both to discourage traffic from joining and to encourage it to leave.

  9. Edwardm
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    The government clearly haven’t taken on board the concerns about the lack of hard shoulder on “smart” motorways.
    Don’t waste money on more radar and cameras – there will always be a delay between breaking down and warnings being displayed – besides traffic that has passed the last warning sign will not be alerted – the safest and only solution is to reinstate hard shoulders. Laybys every 0.75 mile is still too far apart.
    To say vehicles are less likely to drift off the road on a smart motorway is patent nonsense.
    Scrap HS2 and spend on the roads used by far more people.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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