Written evidence submitted by
Mr Alan Hames C.Eng., MICE, MCIHT (RSM0051)
Main Points in the Submission (Paragraphs 1 to 43)
- Current Unsafe All Lane Running “Smart Motorways”
- Hardshoulder on Motorways 1959 to 2010
- Improvements to Motorway Operational Standards 1959 to 2010
- Introduction of “Smart Motorways” 2010 onward
- Installation of M25 Failed Trial of “Stopped Vehicle Detection” (SVD) System
Introduction and Personal Details
I am a retired Roads and Bridges Civil Engineer. I currently act as Consultant to the “Nene Flood Prevention Alliance” on the issue of Town Flooding in Northampton. I am a Chartered member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation. I have over 50 years’ experience of road and bridge design and construction on the strategic road network. I was also personally involved with design and construction for the two motorway upgrades and reconstructions, in both 1962 and 1982. In 1962 I was a member of the original team designing and installing new hardshoulders, then reconstructed to carriageway standard, to replace the original rolled sub-base with spray and chip that since sub-standard construction in 1959 had collapsed. In 1982 and with retention of the important safety of hardshoulders, my input related to works including, new steel safety barriers, new drainage, road lighting, road resurfacing and installation of emergency crossovers.
Reason for Submission of Evidence
As a Chartered Civil Engineer, I see my years of work related to safety being negated on our motorways, with the removal of the lifesaving refuge of hardshoulders. I have to raise my voice against a serious reduction in safety standards, which under the “Health & Safety at Work Act 1974” should be challenged, where this puts life at increased level of risk, to both employees and the public.
Current Unsafe All Lane Running “Smart Motorways”
- The history of motorways, has after many years led to the current introduction of altered and incorrectly designated “Smart Motorways”. An extra lane, at the expense of a lost hardshoulder is stated as necessary, to thereby increase vehicle flow capacity. It has lately been achieved by removal of the previously available safe refuge of hardshoulders, turning them into an additional running lane. The system is now known as, “All Lanes Running” motorways. The deletion of the hardshoulder, previously available as an area of safety, clearly has been adopted as a means of cheaply increasing road capacity, but at the expense of road user safety. Such a solution has not been accepted, or approved on European motorways and the UK are continuing to take risks that other developed countries would not and do not consider.
- At this point it is worth looking back at the development of our motorway system since 1959 through to the present, related to changed operational systems and new motorway laws.
Hardshoulders on Motorways 1959 to 2010
- Over the years leading to the decision to repurpose hardshoulders, various changes to motorway operations and procedures have been put in place. Until this latest decision, they have nationwide been effective and well thought out.
- Historically the facility of a hardshoulder throughout the motorway building programme since the late 1950s, has been a recognised as an essential requirement for safety. Over the 60 years of construction of the present motorway network throughout the United Kingdom, there has been acceptance by all bodies, governmental, safety organisations and those tasked with the road construction and maintenance, that they are essential. This facility has provided a refuge for anyone unfortunate enough to experience a problem and has acted well, both as a linear refuge area and for the use of the emergency services. These, such as police, ambulance, breakdown and serious disaster teams, were always in the position of having a clear and unobstructed lane to quickly attend any event and carry out their life saving duties. However, lately greater traffic numbers have become a problem and it was apparent that there was a need to somehow increase capacity and traffic throughput.
Improvements to Motorway Operational Standards 1959 to 2010
- In this respect, over the years due to the major increase in traffic flows, this has put stress on motorway operations, resulting in reduction of throughput and at times traffic jams with slow moving vehicles. The need for action has over the years been an ongoing area for consideration and has resulted in new approaches to achieve improvements. The introduction of these and the improvements developed and implemented were as follows:
- Speed Limits: In the in the early 1960’s a 70mph speed limit was introduced for safety reasons, rather than for extra capacity. Previously unlimited speed had been allowed and travel at 100 mph plus was the norm for many cars. However, later when motorway capacity was being recognised as being insufficient, it was seen that the 70 mph maximum throughout all motorways also allowed the improvement of reduction of accidents. These were generally attributable to resultant bunching of vehicles driving close together at the allowed maximum speed. However the newly specified 70 mph speed limit was recognised as only marginally contributing to an increase in capacity. It was seen that it was time to consider a new approach and do away with 70 mph as the standard maximum speed limit whilst employing the recognised then present design and construction standards with hardshoulders, but with some innovative approaches.
- M1 South Widening: At the London southern end of the M1, necessary new grade separated junctions were added, together with the addition of a fourth running lane and the essential reinstatement of the hardshoulder to retain the accepted and necessary level of safety and access. As part of these works, existing bridges to the old standardised format, designed by Sir Owen Williams and Partners, were demolished. In their place lengthier, wider and individually designed new structures were put in place. This decision retained all that was expected for proper motorway design, construction and safety, including the reinstatement of hardshoulders. High construction costs at this time were not a factor and standards for safety were maintained.
- Controlled Motorways: Following the earlier 70mph maximum speed limit a subsequent improvement was required to provide extra capacity and was designated as “Controlled Motorways”. From 2002 this resulted in the introduction of variable motorway speed limits employing overhead gantries with centrally controlled variable displays. These, as needed, set reduced speeds where seen to be required, or could by an overhead ‘X’ close a lane. This new procedure of setting lower speed limits and lane closures were mandatory and enforceable and therefore had to be obeyed. As such they were then usable by motorway controllers to warn vehicles approaching an incident with introduction of lane closures, but were also effective to locally reduce speed limits to conduct a greater traffic flow. Slower traffic speeds allowed drivers to adopt a lesser “headway” to the next vehicle in line and controlled flow was thereby achieved. Later assessments confirmed that this is an effective way of increasing motorway capacity, with hourly traffic flow noticeably improved. Also with the benefits of lesser accidents and reduction of stationary vehicles causing motorway blockages. It is generally agreed that this form of motorway management has and still operates well, with safety on the motorways continuing as the main priority.
Introduction of Smart Motorways 2010 onward
- We are now 60 years down the line, during which, up to 2010, old and new motorways have abided by the basic and established safety standards laid down in the 1950’s. These over the years have worked well, with the addition of proven well considered updates and changes to improve driver standards and road capacity.
- The background behind the current change of standards, which commenced in 2010, arose when investigations of how to add improved motorway capacity looked at the available infrastructure. A solution was seen with the engineering possibility to change the present safety use of the existing hardshoulder and convert it into an additional running lane. This was seen as offering immediate provision of extra road capacity at minimal cost. Needless to say, it was hailed by the then cash strapped Department for Transport and Highways England and by its advisers, as the panacea for jammed motorways.
- By 2012, following consideration of the recognised likely reduction of safety standards, a short trial installation was constructed on the M42, but with the provision of emergency refuge bays at approximately 500 metre centres. This being of short length, with provision of reasonably adequate refuges for broken down vehicles to reach a safe position, clear of the new running lane, worked reasonably well and locally provided the required extra motorway capacity.
- Following this trial it was decided by the Department of Transport, together with the then Highways Agency, to expand motorway carriageway capacity with the provision of a fourth lane on those three lane motorways with traffic problems, by removal of hardshoulders.
- However, it was considered that the 500 metre spacing of Refuge Bays was an over provision and costly, so the spacing of refuge bays was extended to 1.5 miles. This was implemented without a further trial to prove the safety of greater distances between refuges and a national programme of hardshoulder removal, to previously safely operated motorways was commenced.
- Even at this early point with the removal of hardshoulders, the public were becoming concerned about the loss of essential safety standards and a Parliamentary Committee was tasked to assess the situation. As an example, just before the Committee reported, on 14 February 2015, a horrendous accident on the M1 northbound south of Milton Keynes, within a section then operated under the “Dynamic Motorway” system occurred. Three passengers were killed outright and the third maimed for life. This alone might have influenced the House of Commons Transport Committee “All Lanes Running 2016-17 Report”, which was damning and in the preamble stated, “We do not support ‘All Lanes Running’, as the attendant safety risks have not been fully addressed”. It called for cessation of further hardshoulder alterations, until the Smart Motorway installation policy had been subjected to a new detailed assessment of risks and dangers. This did not take place and the removal by Highways England of hardshoulders on many motorways merrily continued, with mounting deaths and serious injuries.
- The report also stated: “Overall, we conclude that there are journey time and reliability improvements of “All Lane Running” and our concern is that the risks arising from converting the hard shoulder into a running lane are an unacceptable price to pay for such improvements.”
- At this time two distinctly different “Smart Motorway” systems were introduced by Highways England without adequate explanation to a bemused general public:
- “All Lane Running” - self-explanatory, but now without the hardshoulder
- “Dynamic Hardshoulder Running” - This was most confusing and subsequently abandoned by Highways England as not understandable, with operational daily fluctuations between “All Lanes Running” and nearside lane returned to hardshoulder operation. Drivers misunderstood whether the new lane was in use for traffic, or not. It was acknowledged that this system created dangers and accidents that could not be tolerated.
- Over the past eight years approximately 500 miles of motorway have been converted to the new reduced operational standard, but importantly without any proper assessment of increased risk. In particular the expanded distance between Refuge Areas, to approximately 1.5 miles, has in itself been instrumental in many unnecessary deaths. The majority of those using these altered motorways very soon realised that they were at greater risk, with nowhere to go in the event of a problem. Immediately voices were raised to dispute the decision to remove hardshoulders, as the provision of suitable and frequent refuges were no longer in place. It was reasonably expected that spacings of these Refuge Bays would be similar at least to those installed on the M42. This had been marketed as the basis for continuation of the roll out of the “Smart Motorway” programme, but no one from Highways England made public that Refuge Bay spacings were to be so far apart as to make reaching one, when in extremis, almost impossible.
- Not only was the risk greater, but as seen many times a vehicle breakdown is likely to be remote from these sparsely provided Refuge Bays, leaving the occupants stationary within a “Running Lane” and at serious risk of being involved in a major accident, with HGV and other traffic passing by at up to 70 mph. It is questioned whether detailed “Risk Assessments” were carried out before introduction of changes that would affect levels of safety?
- The advice to always make your way to a refuge area is frequently impossible to achieve, as a breakdown often makes the vehicle undriveable. With the vehicle stationary and situated in a live lane the occupants have no alternative other than to await recognition of their position by the Highways Control Centre team. Apparently viewing CCTV cameras is on an irregular basis, as this is not their sole responsibility. They, at this point, are the driver’s lifeline to arrange the speediest action by the appropriate motorway services.
- It is now documented that when in a broken down vehicle in a “Running Lane”, the timescale before safety can be achieved with removal of risk to the occupants is:
- Recognition of stopped vehicle by Highway Control Centre: 17.1 minutes
- Operation of lane signage on gantries to take the lane out of use: 3 minutes
- Call out and arrival of rescue services : 17 minutes
- To the point of rescue, a total of 37.1 minutes then generally elapses during which there is risk of death, or serious injury to those involved. In particular, the level of risk is very high for around 20 minutes before a red ‘X’ “Lane Out of Use” sign is displayed.
- The advice from Highways England offered to the vehicle occupants, is to leave the vehicle and stand behind the safety barriers. This of course is not possible for the disabled, or infirm. This safety instruction not being possible, they will only be able to move into the nearside seat with seatbelt on and the hazard lights in operation and trust to luck. However even vehicle hazard lights, at times will be out of operation, depending on the reason causing the breakdown, such as electrical failure. Electrical failure was the situation we experienced on the M1 southbound near Luton and no Refuge Area in the vicinity. To be broken down without hazard lights whilst within a running lane, would have been life threatening had we not been able to limp the car into the nearby Toddington Services Area.
- The time delay, breakdown to recovery of 37 minutes, is an unreasonable timescale for the provision of a level of safety that is rightfully expected by those using a Smart Motorway. So far this has accounted for the unnecessary and appalling Smart Motorway deaths, of around 40 people, each acknowledged at 2018 rates as costing £2.2million in prevention costs. A pity that Highways England have taken the view and still present their case, that these changed motorways are safer than those with hardshoulders. This despite the acknowledgement of a greater number of serious injury accidents, that in 2018 were a cost to the economy calculated at £244,000 in prevention costs.
- At this “eleventh hour”, the Minister Grant Shapps has finally admitted that earlier decisions were faulty and he would not have pursued Smart Motorways in their present form. But he is now in control of the system and presently administers it with Highways England. He has promised closer Refuge Bays and a halt to motorway alterations under the current standards. This seems to be hollow words, as at present numerous motorway “All Lanes Running” schemes are still in progress, with Refuge Areas still located much too far apart. Also, there has been no confirmation that those motorways within the over 500 miles already converted, will have additional bays installed. So risk levels remain uncorrected.
- At this point we are left in the position where cost has become the deciding factor, rather than the maintenance of safety standards. Figures so far presented by Highways England related to “Smart Motorways”, show the total admitted number of deaths, mile for mile, are thereabouts as before. However, the death statistics provided by them, are so close, before and after, as to be within the “statistical margin for error” and therefore are questionable. Additionally and of great concern, is the arising documented and accepted figure for an increased number of serious injury accidents.
- These serious injuries so easily could have translated into even more deaths and present a now worse position for road users, clearly due to the removal of hardshoulders, which previously were an available refuge. There is additionally, so far to date, where there has been no recognition of the increased risk in times of fog. There will then be lack of visibility of warning signs and nowhere to go in times of serious accident or breakdown.
Installation of M25 Failed Trial of the “Stopped Vehicle Detection” (SVD) System
- Having finally admitted that mistakes were made with the introduction of Smart Motorways, Highways England are now presenting the introduction of SVD radar technology on all motorways, as the panacea for acknowledged ills in the present Smart Motorway system. This SVD NavTech radar system is being promoted as able to quickly and efficiently detect stopped vehicles within 10 seconds and take speedy action. The time scale now promised by the Minister Grant Shapps for full installation on other motorways converted to Smart Motorway, is by 2022. This is the Highways England ‘backstop’ in the current situation, where the system credibility is in question and does not meet even the appalling specified detection rate of 80%
- This SVD system of 27 cameras as a trial, was initially installed onto a 13 kilometre section (8.1 miles) of the M25 Junctions 5 to 6 and was the subject of testing over a six day period. Video recordings were also logged from a number of CCTV cameras covering the same stretch of motorway. These CCTV cameras, over the six day period, separately recorded all incidents of “stopped vehicles”, which were then used to validate the performance of the radar SVD system. However it now appears that very low cars will not be radar detected.
- The outcome of the test, as promoted by Highways England, they have hailed as being a success, as the SVD system is only expected to recognise 80% of stopped vehicles and HE have declared an 86.4% success rate. However the 294 CCTV recorded stationary vehicles under their “Ground Truthing” procedure, whilst the vaunted new SVD system “Detected Events” only recorded 192 of these. This equates to only 65.3% of stationary vehicles. Of the remaining 102 undetected, 62 were designated as being “Allowable Missed Detections”, with the other 40 listed as ”Missed Detections”. These being either “Unknown Reason”, or “Blind Spots”. Having accepted that there were 40 “Missed Detections” that cannot be included, the numbers then required to meet the standard of 80% were upgraded. This HE achieved by also adding the “Allowable Missed Detections” to the “Detected Events” total.
- It can be seen that 192 + 62 = 254 which then just happens to be 86.4% success rate.
- The logical outcome should be 294 – 102 = 192 This equates to 65.3% detection rate
- If a generous allowance is made for “Short Stop” (1 Veh) and “Out of Radar Range” (16 Veh)
- The revised “Best Detection Rate” is: 192 + 17 = 209 This equates to 71% Detection Rate
- Without the addition by Highways England of most of their “Allowable Missed Detections”, it is impossible to achieve their stated and derisory target of 80% detection rate.
- Also, it is clear that even with the generous allowance of 17 “Allowable Missed Detections” added to the Highways England “Detected Events”, this only achieves 71% of “SVD System Detected Events”.
- The SVD system is therefore clearly proven to be so inaccurate as not able to attain even the minimal target of 80%, which is in itself derisory. This leaves 2 in 10 breakdowns (or 20%) undetected and at continued risk. How can this be acceptable, when the true number at risk when the “Allowable Missed Detections” are not added to the “System Detected Events”, there will be at least 3 in 10, or 30% of breakdowns not accounted for? It appears that the present and future contracts for SVD will incur estimated expenditure of £46million on an ineffective and wasteful system. Why?
- The “Stopped Vehicle Detection” system is therefore unacceptable and “Unfit for Purpose” as a safety solution. This returns Highways England to the position where, as a minimum and only as a stopgap, refuge bays at 500 metre centres must urgently be retro fitted. This should be with the acceptance that as the final solution and more appropriately, reinstatement of hardshoulders to be the next priority without delay.
- Until 2010 the operation of the motorway network has resulted in minimal accidents when related to traffic flow. Over 60 years, innovations as detailed above have been introduced to accommodate greater traffic flows and have made driving even safer, despite more vehicles on the road. The United Kingdom road safety standards are the envy of the world.
- The decision by the DfT and their engineers in Highways England to introduce an extra running lane, by means of removing the safety refuge of the hardshoulder, is now proven to be folly. This has been implemented as a means of adding road space at minimal cost while offering too few “Refuge Bays”, currently on completed schemes at distances of 1.5 mile centres. Or even greater spacings on elevated motorways, such as the M6 where the spacing is up to 2.5 miles. Here there is nowhere to go and drivers are left marooned in a 70 mph running lane, with a 37 minute wait for rescue services.
- The situation has been repeatedly drawn into question by the major motoring and breakdown organisations, both the AA and the RAC, who now cannot quickly attend a broken down vehicle due to the acknowledged dangers, until the running lane has been fully closed, or made safe. Any remedial action, then perforce, has to be dealt with off motorway. The President of the AA, Edmund King OBE, has throughout been regularly making representations to the Minister and Highways England, for a rethink of the present dangerous policy. In the case of the RAC, they too are of the same mind and their survey in March 2021 into the attitude of their members to Smart Motorways, resulted in 34 written responses. Of these ‘1’ was in favour, while ‘33’ were adamantly against the original rollout and the ongoing introduction of even more Smart Motorways, with the majority public view (97%), that these are now dangerously altered motorways. Only 1 in 10 AA members say that they feel safe on smart motorways. See AA report:
- A further issue, not being reported, is the advent of electric vehicles many of which cannot easily be towed, due to the inherent technology of permanent connection of the electric motors. In this respect : “You can’t flat tow some electric vehicles more than 800 metres, some you can’t flat tow at all.” This was reported as stated on 24th Feb 2020, as the view of the President of the AA Edmund King OBE.
- At this point, the suggestion that “all will be well” when the “new SVD technology” is rolled out, is seen to be a promise that cannot be fulfilled. The outcome will be even more disruption and unnecessary expenditure that should be avoided. At this point, substitution of the initial construction standard of “Refuge Bays” at 500 metre centres is important, with a view to later reverting to tried and trusted hardshoulders. This must be the way forward.
- The Minister, apparently in conjunction with Highways England, has recently been on record with a new excuse for not being able to reinstate hardshoulders, as this would require additional land take from the “Green Belt” equivalent to numerous football pitches, or stadiums. As any engineer will be able to point out, this would be unnecessary if basic engineering techniques were employed, such as retaining walls, ground reinforcement, or supported slope terracing. This would ensure that slopes remain stable, although steeper, or retained, whilst providing width for the hardshoulder to be reinstated. These and other techniques will not require additional land purchase, allowing works to be completed within the present motorway boundaries. It appears that once again it is cost that governs our present motorway policies and although not admitted, this is clearly the reason for not reinstating hardshoulders. This despite the obvious ongoing risk to life and limb. This can be seen to be of secondary importance, with recorded deaths increasing year by year 2017 to 2019, being 5 to 11 to 14, with no figure available for 2020. Importantly, with hardshoulder reinstatement there would be no need to alter bridges and underpasses as the hardshoulder may be omitted in approaches, with signage of “No Hardshoulder” for a specified distance. This is a tried and tested procedure recognised by all motorway users.
- It is doubly unfortunate that the deaths on Smart Motorways and the number of concerning reports from coroners and the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, have suggested that Highways England should answer questions related to manslaughter. However, the solicitor acting for Highways England is on record, in New Civil Engineer, (11th February 2021), indicating that there is no case to answer and stated:- “….on the issue of corporate manslaughter Highways England owes "no general common law duty of care to road users". He also stated, “It was no part of [the operator’s] job to constantly look for stationary cars”. These I see as most ill timed statements. They will negate any remaining and minimal level of confidence in Highways England, as lives lost are clearly secondary to cheaply widening our motorways for the substitution of an extra running lane. A speedy recognition must result, that a comprehensive change of policy is now essential, if confidence in our motorway network is to be restored.
- As a Chartered Civil Engineer who has spent a lifetime building roads with hardshoulders on our motorways, with safety of all road users as the most essential component, I am appalled to see that cost is now the prime consideration. This it seems is the present most important consideration of the DfT and Highways England, who are those now charged with the ongoing maintenance, construction and safety of our national road network.
- I trust that this Committee will recognise that a return to proven standards of safety is now essential, whatever the cost, as protection of lives on our roads must be the overriding consideration. I am hopeful that this will result in the recommendation that reinstatement of missing hardshoulders is now essential and the only way forward. This I believe was the essential conclusion within the Transport Committee’s previous 2016-2017 Report, where serious doubts were expressed related to the Smart Motorways programme. Now and additionally, the “Stopped Vehicle Detection” system is a documented failure and unfit for purpose. The announced and wasteful projected spend of £46milion on SVD should be diverted to the return of hardshoulders. The system of Smart Motorways and SVD technology should be confirmed as unacceptable, with the responsibility lying with the Department for Transport and Highways England to restore the hardshoulder and previous levels of safety.
- Finally, I call on all members of the Committee to draw the same conclusions and concerns, as those reached previously in 2016-2017.