posted 8 months ago

Smart Motorways Pose Significant Safety Risk, Police Warn

How Smart Motorways work, the benefits, and how they could slow emergency vehicles en-route to collisions.

Smart Motorway safety concerns explained

Smart Motorways that enable traffic to use the hard shoulder as a running lane to increase capacity pose “significant” safety risks, The Police claimed. Emergency vehicles no longer have an empty, safe(ish), route to travel to the scene of collisions, for example.

It is also harder for officers to pull over motorists that are driving dangerously. Furthermore, hard shoulder running ensures that cars with mechanical faults cannot stop at any point on the motorway. Drivers instead have to find refuge areas that are located periodically en-route (if their vehicles make it that far).

Rumours also suggest that these refuge areas – that are strictly for emergency use only – confuse some foreigners. Visiting heavy goods vehicle drivers have apparently perceived them as rest stops. 

Smart Motorway

Characteristics of Smart Motorways

Smart Motorways – as we have established – enable motorists to cruise on the hard shoulder in non-emergency circumstances when traffic is heavy. But they have other characteristic too. Operators vary the speed limit so that vehicles stay spaced out, for example.

If traffic slows due to congestion, the speed limit for the vehicles approaching from behind could be reduced to (say) forty miles per-hour. This, theoretically, provides time for the congestion to clear/reduce so fewer – if any – cars join the queue. 

Benefits of Smart Motorways

Highways England claimed Smart Motorways provide a range of benefits. 

  • “Additional capacity by converting the hard shoulder into an additional running lane.”
  • “Earlier delivery of the benefits than would be achieved through implementing a widening scheme.”
  • “Lower environmental impacts and costs compared to a widening scheme, as Smart Motorways do not require us to use additional land or to construct an additional lane by maximising the use of what we already have.”
  • “Increased compliance by controlling and managing the motorway through the use of overhead mandatory speed limits, driver information, CCTV coverage and enforcement.”
  • “The ability to inform drivers of unexpected conditions such as incidents through the latest generation of roadside variable message signs.”
  • “Systems to detect the presence of slow moving vehicles and automatically warn approaching drivers of the potential for queues ahead.”
  • “The ability to protect any broken down vehicles by using overhead signs to warn drivers and close lanes before emergency and recovery services arrive.” 
  • “Full CCTV coverage helps quickly verify the locations of incidents.”

SMART Motorway

How to drive on Smart Motorways

  • Watch the overhead gantry signs for information and instruction. A red cross above a lane means that lane is closed, for example. The gantries confirm the speed limit too.
  • A solid white line on the outside edge of the inner lane indicates it is a hard shoulder. Only use it as a running lane if the signs say it is permissible, e.g. “use hard shoulder”.
  • If the vehicle has a mechanical problem, try to exit the motorway or get to a refuge area where there is a telephone. If neither is possible, stop on the verge/inner lane, engage the hazard warning lights and – if safe – exit the vehicle via a inner door and wait behind a safety barrier. If it is not safe to leave the car, keep the seatbelt on and telephone 999.

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