Smart motorway safety concerns

All-lane motorway running unnerves drivers despite reports saying ‘safety has not worsened’

All-lane motorway running unnerves drivers despite reports saying ‘safety has not worsened’

All-lane motorway running unnerves drivers despite reports saying ‘safety has not worsened’

Two reports were published today by Highways England looking at the performance of two sections of smart motorway with all-lane running on the M25 (junctions 23-27 and 5-7). Whilst the reports say “safety has not worsened as a result of the schemes” the AA still has safety concerns.

The reports state that 7% did not comply with red X warnings and also states that 85% of the stops in the emergency refuge areas (ERAs) were not emergencies. This seems a particular problem with HGVs as only 4% of their stops were emergencies. The AA believes that the Government has still taken a gamble to improve capacity when safety might be compromised.

Highway anxiety

Losing the hard-shoulder to make more efficient use of motorway road space raises the anxiety levels of drivers on them, the AA’s president Edmund King explains.

AA-Populus research among almost 30,000 AA members in July 2015 found:

  • 59% say they will be more nervous driving on a motorway without a hard shoulder. Women were more likely to say this; 67% vs. 56% of men.
  • Two thirds (64%) are not confident that they fully understand what a ‘smart’ motorway is.
  • The majority (90%) of AA members think that if Highways England converts some sections of motorway hard shoulders into permanent running lanes, then it will be more difficult to deal with incidents/accidents/road works in sections where there is no hard shoulder.
  • 85% agree that hard shoulders help to make motorways safe.

Safe havens

The main concern with all-lane running motorways is the availability of safe havens, known as ‘emergency refuge areas’ (ERAs) along a motorway.

When all-lane motorways were first trialled, an ERA was available every 500 metres. Now the standard is ‘up to 2.5km’, or 1.5 miles.

Slip roads, where traffic often exits motorways at speed, are also officially counted as locations that ailing vehicles can limp to.

it is the potential price paid in collisions, injuries and the fear of them that has to be balanced against the increase in road capacity

Edmund King OBE, president of the AA

“Every regular motorway user appreciates that more road space is needed to deal with greater demand, particularly as the UK economy recovers. However, it is the potential price paid in collisions, injuries and the fear of them that has to be balanced against the increase in road capacity,” says Edmund King, the AA’s president.

“We are pleased that these interim studies have not shown that safety has worsened however we still have major safety concerns. At the very least we would like to see twice as many emergency refuge areas as breaking down in a live lane with 7% not complying with the red X warnings shows there is a real chance of vehicles getting rear-ended.

trucks using the emergency refuge areas means that often they will not be available for real emergencies

Edmund King OBE, president of the AA

"We also believe that if an major incident occurs it will be more difficult for the emergency services to reach the crash location. Motorways have long been recognised as the safest roads in the UK when considering the volume of traffic they carry and we want to keep them that way.

Better education

“The greater proportion of trucks using the emergency refuge areas means that often they will not be available for real emergencies and therefore we need twice as many lay-bys and an education campaign to show they should only be used in emergencies.”

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(28 January 2016)