Written evidence submitted by Mr John Phillips (RSM0004)
This report provides a new consideration for the core safety issues to help the committee consider the underlying problem with smart motorways.
It considers how Highways England has addressed overall safety concerns and their continued introduction of smart motorways even with clear evidence of the creation of a new high risk safety event.
These considerations are provided from long experience in many forms of vehicle and driving safety. My personal experience covers over fifty years in areas such as motorsport, vehicle adaptation, extensive advanced driving experience in both cars and motorbikes, off road and on road UK / European road networks. My background is business consultancy and as such I am experienced at looking at the wider picture and especially at defining underlying issues within a project to create improved outcomes.
Throughout my years of experience, I have considered the many risk factors involved in driving and how to mitigate them. I would like the committee to consider my view as it provides a logical approach and not the statistical approach put forward by other commentators and indeed Highways England themselves. I shall attempt to show clearly why this statistical approach is wrong, and how the UK can indeed reduce death and injury rates across the UK.
“evidence shows that our all lane running smart motorway upgrades have helped reduce the casualty rate by 18%.”
Director of Major Projects Highways England
This statement was used as the main reasoning for continuing with smart motorways. This was in reply to my enquiry to Highways England as to why, with the know issues of deaths attributed directly to the smart motorway core infrastructure, were Highways England still proceeding with their introduction.
The underlying issue is to reduce deaths and injury on UK roads. A secondary issue is to provide improved travel times and improved driving conditions within the UK.
I propose there are many ways to do the above. One possibility (that I have been proposing for many years) is to introduce a new driving assessment process along the lines of a mandatory advanced driving assessment within a year or so from the current driving test.
We know that while speed is often quoted as a factor in many accidents, the underlying cause is usually due to poor driving skills and inattentive driving. As a long term motorcyclist, I can confirm that on every ride of any distance over a few miles, I would need to take mitigating action due to inattentive driving behaviour by mainly car and van drivers. I propose that the committee asks Highways England to conduct a full test to evaluate the likely results for introducing an advanced assessment post the standard driving test. This should consider the overall potential for reducing deaths and injury on all UK roads.
My personal view – having taken a lifetime to improve my driving and attention skills – is that I cannot ever use a smart motorway - as it prevents me from creating the time and space in which to mitigate an accident in the case of a vehicle failure or major issue where I need to stop quickly. My personal safety (and that of my passengers) is totally reliant on the drivers behind. On a smart motorway, it is impossible for me to reduce risk of death if the drivers behind are not paying attention or driving too closely. In my experience, this poor driving behaviour includes a large proportion of drivers on UK roads.
The reasoning used by Highways England is that by changing a part of the road infrastructure, gives an improvement overall in deaths and injuries. This logic is fatally flawed. There are many ways to change infrastructure, but if this means that it introduces a completely new risk that did not exist before, then this change must be considered invalid.
There would be a case if such a change was so massively effective in saving lives that the new risk could be considered a necessity. However, in this particular case this is not so, and the change, specifically in removing the escape road (hard shoulder) cannot be seen to be an overwhelmingly necessity to reduce deaths or injuries overall. Certainly it may improve traffic flow, but at what cost for some individuals and their families?
Importantly, the risk introduced is one that cannot be mitigated at all, even by experienced and advanced drivers. Even more importantly, this new risk is a massively high risk event, especially when something happens to a vehicle (or the driver) that means it must stop immediately or very quickly. It has to be understood that this, while unlikely, is a very real event that happens all time without any warning on UK roads.
What also needs consideration, is that this particular change creates a new high risk that for drivers of high skill and attentive driving, (or occupier who has chosen their driver carefully), their skill and attentiveness means nothing at all in the even of a vehicle failure. Their ability is reduced to that of the worst driver on the road. This does not incentivise the practice of good driving habits. As such, this can be seen to be a very strange way of improving overall death rates – effectively disinsentivising good driving habits and creating a situation that cannot respond to improved driving techniques.
Also under consideration is the view that for aware, experienced drivers, this new high risk ever-present threat will be a significant stress inducing factor. This, in turn, directly creates increased risk for drivers and their passengers due to fatigue and makes the business of getting from A to B more stressful overall.
I ask each member of the committee, consider driving on a smart motorway and knowing that whatever you do, you and your family may be killed by the inattentive driver behind - in a blink of an eye – are you happy to recommend smart motorways?
I urge the committee to recommend the re-introduction of hard shoulders and consider better ways to reduce overall road death and injury rates in the UK.