Written Evidence submitted by South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (RSM0038)

 

Dear Members of the Select Committee

 

I have felt compelled to write to you not as any kind of expert, but as someone who uses the ALR stretch of the M1 on a regular basis, who has some responsibility for those who are often the first at the scene of any incidents on the motorway, namely the police, and as someone whose job is to articulate the views of South Yorkshire people on issues such as this, especially if they feel they are not being listened to.

 

I would urge you not to become so immersed in statistics and expert evidence that you become bewitched by them and lose sight of the lay person’s starting point – the starting point of all those who drive here.

 

What common sense tells us

 

Quite simply, common sense tells us that if a vehicle stops in a live running lane the occupants are placed in greater danger than if they had a hard shoulder to pull onto. This is the same common sense that tells us that lying down on a railway track or jumping out of a plane without a parachute is dangerous. I don’t think any argument could persuade us that our instinct for self survival had got any of this wrong. Yet this is what we are being asked to swallow.

 

Why the statistics about safety are flawed

 

The reasoning seems to be this. If we compare the statistics for accidents and fatalities on, say, a ten mile stretch of ALR, they are at best no worse and perhaps even better than on an equivalent stretch of conventional motorway – and the absence of a hard shoulder is therefore not a factor in safety. Our common sense tells us that this argument has to be flawed in some way because it goes against our common sense judgement that stopping in a live lane is inherently and immediately dangerous.

 

The flaw is not difficult to figure out.

 

The statistics can be true; but that would not be sufficient to invalidate our common sense judgement that ALRs are dangerous, and more dangerous than conventional motorways. The reason for saying that is because there may be a number of reasons why ALR statistics show a better safety record than conventional motorways – but those reasons would not include the fact that there is no hard shoulder.

 

From the lay perspective, the reasons are not hard to see. ALR stretches have more lanes and gantries that enable speed and traffic flow to be regulated. We believe the gantries and their technology are what makes the difference to collision statistics, not the fact that there is no hard shoulder. It is in fact difficult if not impossible to see how the absence of a hard shoulder could in itself make a stretch of motorway safer.

 

But while the gantries might be the critical factor for safety, the lack of a hard shoulder remains a critical factor for danger. Stopping in a live running lane with no hard shoulder presents an immediate danger. One assumes that this was a primary reason for building motorways with hard shoulders in the first place.

 

I believe, therefore, that the only true comparison for safety would be between a stretch of motorway with gantries and no hard shoulder and a stretch with gantries and a hard shoulder.  Without those comparison we believe the arguments about safety are flawed.

 

Refuges, do, of course, make a difference. But only if the driver can get to them. If a vehicle stops, it hardly matters how near or far a refuge is. Likewise, stopped vehicle detection technology will make some difference. But even if this technology allows the time taken between a stopped vehicle being recognised and the live lane in which it is stopped being closed, there will always be a time lag, and in those few moments, given the high speed that all vehicles are travelling, lives can be significantly changed or lost for ever.

 

Other fears

 

ALR stretches also present a hazard for those road users coming behind a vehicle that stops. HGV drivers have told me how difficult it can be sometimes to gauge whether a vehicle has slowed or has stopped – and when they realise a vehicle is in fact stationary, emergency measures have to be taken, and that may mean moving very swiftly into the next live lane. Other HGV drivers have told me how dangerous it is for a second and subsequent vehicles coming up behind a stopped vehicle, because they may be unsighted on the hazard ahead. They have also told me that they believe this is even more hazardous for drivers from continental Europe in left hand drive vehicles who are frequently travelling along the M1.

And motorists who use the M1 on a daily basis to get to work have told me of the way their anxiety levels rise when they come to the ALR sections.

 

Emergency service vehicles are also delayed getting to collisions if all lanes are brought to a stop and they have to make their way through stationary traffic and not along a hard shoulder.

 

April 2021