Written evidence submitted by Mr Leonard Webster (RSM0007)
I submit this document to give my point of view on smart motorway (your description not mine) I have always called these dumb motorways as I find it difficult to believe there is anyone in power who ever thought these were a good idea. Right from the start there were clear and very obvious problems not least to say the number of fatalities they would cause.
I am a retired police officer having spent some of my career as a traffic officer (now called roads policing.)
I have personal experience of being hit by a large lorry whist sitting in a parked police vehicle with every warning light fitted to it being illuminated and it was a clear bright sunny day and the road behind me was absolutely straight for at least three quarters of a mile.
I personally witnessed quite recently on the M1 in Derbyshire a LGV broken down in lane one and the driver was frantically walking back along the motorway waving a hi-visibility jacket to warn other motorists.
Issues with these
They cause a lot of traffic congestion, the exact opposite of the excuse given for there inception. Listen to the traffic news every morning. Long queues because of a broken down vehicles (BDV’s.) Almost without exception this is on a stretch of dumb motorway. A BDV blocks a lane so all the traffic in that lane has to move to lane two. Traffic in that lane has to slow to allow them to do that and lane three seeing what is going on ahead of them do the same as does lane 4. Very quickly the motorway grinds to a halt. This is the exacerbated by Highways England closing lanes unnecessarily as they do often thereby creating more congestion. The recovery vehicles 9 being a breakdown or an accident) cannot get there as they are stuck at the rear of the 3 mile tailback with no hard shoulder to use to facilitate there progress. Emergence service vehicles in the event of an accident cannot get there for the same reasons as above and as a result people die.
Every road death is a tragedy but avoidable ones even more so and these deaths are avoidable but as is normal for government nobody accepts responsibility hiding behind a wall of civil servants. Of course there is also the issue of the refuge areas not being placed the distance apart they were required to be under the concept of these measure, another failure costing lives.
The management of signs is exceptionally poor and so the motoring public have no faith in them. Classic example and this is not by any means an isolated incident for me., was yesterday 26/2/2021 I was travelling north on the MI J12 to J13. Normal 70 mph limit applies then reduced to 60mph with the overhead gantry indicating vehicle to move left out of the lane. Next sign 50mph limit with two lanes now showing arrows to move to the next lane. Next sign 40mph limit with a red cross and flashing red lights closing the lanes. A lot of motorists ignored the red light lane closure (quite common.) Next sign exactly the same as the previous one with the same motorist response. This caused a tailback with only one running lane now being in us. Next sign 60mph (Imposed because of the dumb motorway conversion works.) No reason at all for those signs to be lit and yet again every motorist who drove through there lost faith in the management of signs. As stated this is not an isolated incident and I could quote numerous incidents where signs are displayed wrongly including false information that the motorway is actually closed ahead. There was one incident similar to this where I spent a long time in the queue and when I go to the front and saw the national speed limit sign I actually called Hertfordshire Police to get the signs taken down.
The motoring public have to have faith that these signs are being used and managed properly, and at the moment they do not. In a large proportion of cases they are not and as a result are ignored defeating the object of them being there. This needs to be improved radically but quite how you put that genie back in the bottle and restore the trust of motorists I do not know.
Highways England Traffic Officers. (HETO)
The management of motorways has declined hugely since the advent of HETO. I have never once seen them try and clear an obstruction that as a police officer we did regularly to get traffic moving again. They consistently stay by their vehicles behind the incident with all lights flashing and just stay there watching traffic build up. It is almost as though their remit is to protect the scene but do not bother with the traffic problem. Examples witnessed by me include where a section on the M25 had two HETO vehicle closing two lanes for the recovery of one vehicle that was in the process of being put on a recovery vehicle. The closure of the second land caused a huge tailback and was totally unnecessary. Another example was a breakdown some 200m from a refuge area. It would have been the simplest thing to put a tow rope on that car and take it to the refuge area but no we hade to close a lane and await a recovery vehicle. I have even observed a lane one closure when the HETO vehicle and the vehicle it was attending to were bot in a refuge area.
The roll out of these motorways has been an unmitigated disaster and was never going to be anything else. I contacted the DfT over 12 months ago about deaths and other issues and just received the usual bland reply that has become government standard speak over the last few years. There is also the issue of trust. The Transport Secretary around two to three weeks ago announced that no new dumb motorways would be built pending a review, (I assume this one,) so it is safe to assume that the planning consent approved this week for the conversion of part of the M6 north of Birmingham will not longer be commenced and be placed on hold pending the outcome of this review.
When asked about converting dumb motorways back to standard motorway with a hard shoulder the excuse was it would be far too costly and require too much land. Just to throw one idea into the pot why not just replace the broken white line between lanes one and two with a rumble strip and light up the red cross above what would again become the hard shoulder. That of course would mean admitting the entire concept was wrong in the first place.
The sections where the hard shoulder is brought into use at busy times seems to work a lot better that having lane one as a ALR section. For some reason motorists respect the hard shoulder closure at quiet times far more than closing a running lane with a red cross, but there is still the issue of someone noticing a broken down vehicle quickly.