Currently hundreds of miles of motorways are being transformed into ‘smart motorways’ in which hard shoulders are used as live lanes to allow a greater number of cars to travel on the motorway.
As it stands, there are currently around 100 miles of motorways that have been changed into all-lane running routes, with another 225 miles planned for the future.
These ‘smart’ motorways have emergency refuge areas for motorist to use if they have broken down, but these are only at every 1.5 miles on existing ‘smart’ motorways and every mile where applicable on planned roads.
However it has come to light that drivers collide into stationary vehicles on the hard shoulders of Britain’s motorways at the shocking rate of 24 per week which has led to motoring groups urging the Government to have a rethink about turning more hard shoulders into traffic lanes on these so-called ‘smart motorways’.
The president of the AA, Mr Edmund King, said the Department for Transport and Highways England should change course, adding: ‘What we don’t want is for them to have blood on their hands.’
Breakdown company Green Flag has found almost 9,000 accidents involved vehicles smashing into stationary cars and 42 per cent of these were in the hard shoulder which means that 24 drivers a week hit a car at rest on the hard shoulder of either a motorway or a main road. Of those, approximately 19 per cent resulted in serious injury or death.
However Highways England said casualty rates on roads which have changed to ‘all lane running’ had dropped by 28 per cent.
Last month, Matt Pates, a traffic operations manager for Highways England, which is responsible for trunk roads, said hard shoulders were not ‘hospitable’ places for drivers to be and smart motorways were ‘as safe, if not safer’ without them.
But motoring groups argue that it is ‘expansion on the cheap’ and have warned it will cost lives.
Edmund King, president of the AA, revealed that calls his organisation had received from motorists suffering a breakdown in a live lane with no access to a hard shoulder were ‘absolutely terrifying’ and warned a fatal crash was inevitable. He said the government should rethink its policy and ensure that on all lane running roads lay-bys were more frequent at every 400m to 600m rather than every 2.5km.
A Highways England spokesperson said: ‘Evidence from the schemes has proved that smart motorways are as safe, if not safer, than ordinary motorways, which are already among the safest roads in the world. Evidence indicates that since opening, across nine ‘all lane running’ schemes the casualty rate has reduced by 28%’.
The advice is that any driver encountering a mechanical problem on one of these ‘smart’ motorways should try to reach an SOS area, however it is inevitable some might fail to do so. In these circumstances the technology should detect a broken down vehicle and Highways England will close the lane although from a driver’s point of view their safety is dependent on others obeying the ‘red X’ lane closure signs.
Drivers who ignore warning signs on smart motorways will now be slapped with an automatic fine and points on their licence. Police now have the power to punish those who drive in closed lanes on smart motorways, under Home Office legislation recently brought in from 10th June 2019. New traffic cameras will catch drivers using lanes marked with red ‘X’ signs, with offenders facing a £100 fine and three penalty points.
It is hoped that the deterrent of fines and penalty points will reduce the number of drivers ignoring the lane closure sign and reduce the risk of injury to other drivers.
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