Police evidence to Transport Committee confirms AA’s smart motorway safety fears
Evidence submitted by police to the Commons’ Transport Committee confirms long-held AA fears that smart motorways on the cheap are a danger to drivers and their passengers.
Key safety fears have revolved around the Government’s decision to space emergency refuge areas, where lame duck vehicles can get off the motorway, every 2.5 kilometres – instead of the 800 metres on the M42 pilot scheme.
Since 2012, the AA has voiced its concerns, particularly the consequence of ‘lane one’ breakdowns in the dark when stranded vehicles could become a ‘sitting duck’.
The AA, and others also submitted evidence that highlighted a lack of driver understanding of SMART motorways and concerns about the use of driver compliance with variable message signs. The AA is now asking the committee to consider holding a full hearing so that oral evidence can be heard and witnesses called.
In its evidence, the Metropolitan Police state: “Collision and incident scenes are in many cases more difficult and time consuming for first responders to reach, and once there the risk of further incident can be increased. An underpinning theme of our submission is that the current base level design of All Lane Running incorporates too few engineering interventions to adequately mitigate against the increased risks that the concept presents.”
The basic design error is the lack of emergency refuge areas or lay-bys and their inadequate size. We need twice as many and they should be twice as long
Edmund King OBE, president of the AA
Edmund King, AA president: “ The AA has consistently raised safety concerns regarding the new generation of “smart motorways”. The basic design error is the lack of emergency refuge areas or lay-bys and their inadequate size. We need twice as many and they should be twice as long. We fear for drivers breaking down in a live lane, having to dial 999 and pray that no one rear ends them.
"We were so concerned that the AA Trust has designed its own free course 'Drive Motorway' to help scared drivers cope with increased anxiety over using motorways without hard shoulders.
“The Metropolitan Police and Central Motorway Group of police also give a damning indictment of some of the design features and highlight in some cases ‘increased risks to the public and our personnel’. The Met police state clearly that breaking down in a live lane is ‘more likely to result in serious injury or fatality’.
“It is also of concern that the police pursuit of dangerous drivers and criminals may be hampered on smart motorways due to the inability to pull them over safely. Whilst we need to address capacity and congestion problems on our motorways, this was not the smartest way to go about it.”
Regular users have also highlighted the dangers to the committee.
An HGV driver, who regularly travels the M1, M25 and M42, states in his submission:
“I would estimate that whilst on the ALR sections of those roads I encounter a broken down vehicle at least once a month and probably more. If the motorway is quiet it is a huge danger, the matrix warnings are not always in place (and if they are present then they are often ignored by other road users) and you encounter a vehicle and an occupant on the carriageway. It is only a matter of time before someone makes contact with one of these stranded vehicles, it would help if all ALR motorways were lit. If the motorway is busy then the stranded vehicle causes more congestion than would ever have been present before the road expansion, people are stupid and force their way into other lanes causing it to slow and eventually the whole road is near stationary.”
What to do if you break down
In addition to being able to report and track a breakdown, the free AA app includes the AA route planner and traffic data, as well as vehicle reminders for MOT, tax, insurance and service dates. Enhanced features include a fuel price checker, parking-space finder and dashboard warning light information.
(15 February 2016)