I am an individual of 75 years in age. I have been driving cars and small vans since the age of 17. I drive about 8,000 miles each year both in the UK and in Europe.
During my driving career I have valued the safety of the hard should that has been provided on all Motorway style roads in all countries.
With modern traffic levels I can understand the need to utilise all resources available and agree that, if it can be done safely, using the hard shoulder as a running lane makes sense. However, what is being installed at the moment is considerably less safe than what it is replacing. In many ways it indicates that our road network is being extended “on the cheap” and directly at the expense of safety.
The concept of a “Smart” Motorway is that it is implemented with frequent breakdown bays with overhead gantries connected directly to equipment that can immediately detect any vehicle stopped in a running lane. Even with a road meeting this standard there is still more potential for breakdowns to cause accidents than on a conventional motorway. Some accident will be very serious as they will include a large number of highspeed rear end “Shunts”. This will result in consequent serious injuries and deaths. Because of the potential for increased incidence of serious crashes, use of “Smart” motorways should be limited to sections of road where it is not possible to add another lane.
Given the foregoing, what has actually been implemented? Large sections of our motorways are being updated where the distance between refuges is longer than the distance that a car with a power failure would be able to reach. Hence some breakdowns will result in vehicle being stopped in a live lane. Overhead signing is too far apart to effectively warn vehicles approaching about the obstruction. No stopped vehicle detection equipment is installed so travellers who don’t manage to get to a refuge have to endure the risk of a highspeed rear end impact for a very long period. This is a nightmare scenario with travellers sitting helplessly in their vehicles waiting for the devastating crash. The driver who cannot suddenly change lane to avoid a collision with the stationary vehicle is left with the option of colliding with the vehicle in the next lane or a high-speed crash with the broken-down vehicle.
I think the term “Smart Motorway” is totally misleading. What is now being rolled out is not Smart. The elements that would make it smart have not been included. The term “Smart” is lulling the public into a false sense of security.
To counter the poor publicity from a number of fatal crashes on smart motorways, a series of adverts is now appearing on TV and radio. The “Go Left” advert is essentially a cover up. Its underlying message is that the problem with the new Roads is not that they are inherently dangerous but that the public do not understand how to use them. The advert is also grossly misleading it that it infers that people should evacuate their vehicle to beyond the barrier at the side of the road. In a large number of cases, it is not possible to get to the other side of the barrier. Even if you manage to hide behind the barrier this only protects the people in the broken-down car. There is no protection for the following traffic. In fact there is no advice in the Advert for what to do if you encounter a stationary vehicle in the lane ahead.
I believe that the only realistic option is for this faulty roll out to be reversed. For the majority of roads that do not currently suffer major delays the hard shoulder should be restored. For the small number of sections that are currently suffering severe delays the “Smart” features should be immediately introduced. The use of the hard shoulder as a running lane must be reserved for peak traffic periods only. Continuation of the existing policy will result in devastating “accidents” that will result in publicity that will cause the public to doubt the competence of the politicians and traffic management organisations that inflicted this folly on the Country.