Written evidence submitted by K L Systems Ltd (RSM0020)
For more than 30 years I worked for one of the main companies supplying the systems that control motorways in the UK. I now operate my own ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) consultancy and systems engineering business providing independent input, guidance and support in this area.
In Scotland I was closely involved with the delivery of managed motorways from the mid 1990’s onwards and for more than 10 years was the design authority for the Traffic Scotland systems. I specified, designed and led the deployment of the systems that support variable mandatory speed limits, queue protection and bus hard shoulder running on the M90/ Forth crossing corridor. In Hong Kong I led the deployment of one of the major controlled motorway systems and am currently acting as ITS advisor on a similar current project out there.
Note - In Scotland only bus hard shoulder running has ever been deployed and then only on a very limited basis, effectively with trained drivers and only part time. In Hong Kong whilst active control of motorways (controlled motorways) has been in place for 20 or more years there has never been any interest in hard shoulder running.
I have always viewed the HSR and latterly the ALR component of managed motorways with some concern. It was always apparent that that the capability to monitor the hard shoulder when in use as a running lane was likely to be problematic and the risk of serious incidents as a result was likely to far higher.
My view is the DfT evidence stocktake in 2020 failed to deliver a proper focused review of this and avoided the key issue; the report was full of statistics but failed to address the point of concern. It lacked a clear comparison of outcomes for the single key event of interest:
A breakdown on a motorway where a vehicle safely reaches the hard shoulder, lane 1 of an ALR equipped motorway or an emergency refuge
That is an Incident where up to the point of being stationary at the side of the road the vehicle occupants were perfectly safe; those events should be collated from the records with the outcome for each event compared for each class of motorway.
Note this should exclude accidents on the motorway where unfortunately it was not possible to reach the hard shoulder, lane 1 or an emergency refuge.
For each breakdown the outcome should be reviewed, did it result in collision, injury or death?
Reviewing the percentage of breakdown incidents for each type of motorway per mile where the result was injury or death should provide a clear safety comparison for each type of motorway, my view is the evidence stocktake failed to provide this.
I believe a focused review would clearly and starkly highlight that contrary to perhaps misleading statements that that “in most ways, smart motorways as safe as, or safer than, conventional motorways” HSR and ALR equipped motorways are in this regard clearly far less safe for drivers in the event of a breakdown.
My view is that the dynamic HSR schemes where at least initially my understanding was that hard shoulder running would only be activated in congested conditions when traffic had already been slowed and where operation at that point for a limited time would be closely monitored was a reasonable initiative but the rapid progression to a lower cost permanent ALR approach was tragically misguided.
Sadly the current situation that has been created on ALR motorways is appalling. The issue is that someone on an ALR motorway stopped in a live lane is in a vastly risker situation than someone stopped on a hard shoulder, getting out of the car is dangerous and requires real courage, particularly in the dark, staying in the car is dangerous. The car’s occupants are between a rock and a hard place, people are likely to be scared stupid and remain where there are, particularly after the first near miss of traffic flying past at 70 or more mph. This is a tragically terrifying situation.
On the assumption that a focused review of the statistics confirms the dangers of ALR to drivers who break down on Motorways going forward my view is that:
The technology for monitoring the hard shoulder or lane 1 is never going to be perfect but I don’t feel Highways England has applied enough priority in addressing it, I know HE has been offered and trialled video detection systems that can make a difference but has not taken them up and radar systems have been around for quite a while. Whatever there is no substitute for close operator monitoring and the response process to incidents seems on the face of it way too slow.
Going forward notification direct from the car (eCall or similar) is potentially a way forward with rapid automatic hazard alerts directly into approaching vehicles, I believe with the will to progress it this is technically feasible now.
It is important to note that the key safety benefit in smart motorways lies not in HSR or ALR but in the active control of the road to address incidents combined with automatic queue warning and protection systems and variable speed Limits.
These protect drivers by warning them of hazards ahead and slowing traffic in advance of stopped and queuing vehicles. As such they make a significant contribution to safety, reducing accidents.
All the benefits of controlled motorways are available without HSR and ALR and have been in use since the mid 1990’s throughout the UK.
HSR and ALR are not about safety but increasing capacity, in a sense they do that by compromising safety, a risk to date that has not been effectively mitigated.