Written evidence submitted by Mr Stephen Peters (RSM0067)

 

I wish to submit my evidence based on my experience of driving for the past 52 years with an unblemished record and as a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists since 1993.

My exposure to using Smart motorways has mainly been on the M42 to the south and east of Birmingham and the M5 between junctions 4 and 6, the latter being regular journeys over the years during which time the motorway has been upgraded first from 2-lane, then to 3-lane, had central lighting installed, had a central concrete crash barrier constructed and the lighting columns removed, and most recently been upgraded to All Lane Running (ALR) with 4 lanes and no hard shoulder.

 

M5 MOTORWAY JUNCTIONS 3 TO 6 IN WORCESTERSHIRE

I was first concerned to observe that during the installation of the central concrete barrier, in advance of the introduction of ALR, the street lighting columns that had been installed in previous phases of upgrading were removed leaving the section of M5 between junctions 4 and 6 unlit at night after many years of illumination.

The transformation to 4-lane ALR was completed approximately 3 years ago and I was immediately concerned that the absence of a dedicated emergency hard shoulder on an unlit section of motorway would create a hazard at night-time and during conditions of poor visibility insofar as any broken-down vehicle stranded in lane 1 would be difficult to see and to avoid by motorists travelling at speed.

It is my understanding that the presence of a stranded vehicle and the display of overhead warning signs depends upon the vigilance of Highways England personnel who monitor CCTV cameras, and I am unnerved by the possibility that failure to spot an incident in a timely manner could create a dangerous situation for users of the motorway. Human error could be a fatal factor.

I have experienced a number of incidents when a vehicle has broken down in lane 1 and despite the driver’s efforts to pull off the road into the side verge the presence of a stopped vehicle is a danger to other road users and to the occupants of the stranded vehicle.

The absence of an adequate verge or dedicated hard shoulder clearly places stranded motorists in danger and it also has another consequence not directly related to road safety. I have observed that rubbish and debris accumulate along the sides of ALR motorway and maintenance gangs are unable to clear the items away because they have nowhere to drive and park their trucks.

When an incident such as a stranded vehicle happens and is observed, the overhead gantry signs are activated, and lane closures and reduced speed limits are introduced. In my experience, many drivers simply ignore the lower, mandatory speed limits and hurtle along regardless. I do not know whether such offenders are ever caught and fined for their reckless disregard for safety and the law.

A consequence of the lack of an emergency hard shoulder when a vehicle breaks down and is unable to reach one the sporadic emergency lay-bys is that the lower speed limits immediately create a bunching of traffic and resultant congestion for many miles in advance of the incident.

Another consequence of ALR is the increased hazard at motorway junctions when joining traffic entering from the left side is immediately confronted by high-speed traffic in the adjacent lane 1, without the added width of a hard shoulder. This can lead to emergency braking and lane switching by drivers without adequate warning. Some of the slip roads and acceleration lanes are far too short at many junctions and joining traffic has little scope for delaying moving into lane 1. This is a particular problem at M5 Junction 5 where a number of fatalities have occurred since the introduction of ALR. The dangers at this location are further exacerbated by the sharp curve of the motorway and the fencing which creates blind spots to mask the joining traffic.

My own observations have shown that many motorists fail to observe correct lane discipline on ALR motorways. I always keep to the furthest left side lane except when overtaking or in heavy traffic conditions, but I regularly witness drivers keeping to lanes 2 or 3 even when the road ahead is clear for them to move to the left. This selfish and thoughtless action causes congestion and unnecessary lane switching by overtaking vehicles and encourages inside lane overtaking which can be dangerous.

MY RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Consideration should be given to retaining / re-introducing streetlights along ALR stretches of motorway to give drivers improved visibility of stranded vehicles.
  2. Lane 1 should be de-activated permanently at night to provide an emergency lane for stranded vehicles.
  3. Improved signage should be provided at all junctions to alert drivers to the possibility of joining traffic.
  4. Longer slip roads and acceleration lanes should be provided at all junctions where traffic is joining the motorway from the left.
  5. A reduced speed limit should be introduced wherever traffic is joining / merging from the left to improve driver reaction times.
  6. Enforcement and necessity to observe speed limits should be improved.
  7. Lane discipline should be enforced more strictly to improve traffic flows.
  8. Enforcement and public awareness of the correct use of unoccupied lanes should be publicised.
  9. Emergency lay-bys need to be more closely spaced to give greater ability to pull off the running lanes in cases of breakdown or emergency.

 

March 2021