Written evidence submitted by Mr John Ashley (RSM0060)

 

1 – experience – travelling recently on the M25 at 60 mph on an unrestricted section subject to national speed limit of 70 mph, I was slowly catching up with a hgv and expecting to prepare to overtake shortly when the hgv moved into the second lane. I now expected to prepare to follow the hgv and overtake what was ahead of it. I was aware that there was no traffic approaching from behind either directly or in the adjacent lane.  As the hgv cleared the viewand reveal ed the vehicle ahead, I prepared to follow suit, but suddenly became aware that I was approaching this vehicle much more rapidly than I should have expected and became acutely aware that it was stationary. I was able to move over to the right fairly rapidly as there was no traffic to impede that movement. It did significantly raise the tension and my pulse. There had been no advance warning on the approach to the stationary vehicle and no imposed speed or lane access restrictions.

This revealed that no matter how rapidly the control room staff can respond to a developing situation, they cannot do so until an obstruction occurs, but the obstruction is present from the moment it occurs and has to be dealt with by the traffic in the vicinity until the necessary protections can be put in place. Recent tv programmes extolling the performance of highways agency staff reveals that they not only have to be aware of a developing situation, but they have to be constantly alert to whatever is revealed on all the screens in the control room. They have to grasp the potential and then develop a plan to handle it before they can eventually impose speed and carriageway limitations to make approaching traffic aware of the situation. This all takes time and requires them to divert their attention from visual observation of the scene.

I think the current advert ‘Go left’, presumably financed by the highways agency is an attempt to deflect responsibility for safety on highways onto the public and away from the HA. In my opinion is simplistic, insensitive  and fatuous.

2 – conflict of legislation. – I suspect that the recently emphasized legislation regarding lane hogging and its enforcement encouraging drivers to return to the left hand lane was also specifically raised with regard to travel on smart carriageways.

There is also legislation that it is drivers duty to always drive in a safe manner.

I do not feel safe driving at the high speeds that exist on wide unobstructed multi lane dual carriageways with no IMMEDIATE safety options in case of the rare but always possible emergency and have stated on several occasions that I would rather face the consequences of breaching lane hogging regulations by driving in the second lane of a four lane smart motorway, than pass responsibility for safety to others who cannot always be expected to deal with rapidly changing circumstances on a high speed highway in sufficient time to always GUARANTEE that they are irredeemably safe in every circumstance to ensure that the driver can fulfill his obligation to maintain his duty of safety to all other highway users.    

3- consolidation of road deck – long use of existing carriageway has heavily consolidated the roadbed. Eextension of road deck – using lightly consolidated hard shoulder and exposing it to heavy traffic could result in carriageway separation between main carriageway and hard shoulder extension – also result in gradual failure of the embankment both on embankment and in cutting due to heavy traffic compacting the raod bed so much closer to its edge.

However well compacted the roadbed is prepared in construction, it is not as substantial as the compaction from heavy usage – I believe that the M1 extension from Leeds to the A1 was temporarily closed within two weeks of opening due to excessive settlement resulting in surface damage.

As much motorway is on embankment as in cuttings due to construction principles in grading gradients by removing high points to infill low points and minimizing long distance transport of materials. To widen a highway to allow construction of a hard shoulder would require the addition of shoulders to all embankments which would entail adding less consolidated banks to well consolidated shoulders to the existing roadbed. Another potential source of failure and separation

5 – Highways Agency is an arms length distancing of control for highway matters. Is government passing the buck over regulation and inception of new projects.

Smart motorways are the idea of the semi private quango highways agency-to improve capacity. Is this allowing the proposals to proceed without due process, by an agency that acts as if it is the final arbiter on all things traffic with the government simply accepting its proposals?

7 – smart ALR motorways first appeared in 2014. As this was approx. 6 years after the 2008 economic crash that led to a period of austerity. Are smart motorways a reflex reaction to increase capacity on the cheap as a result?

They were a development of DHS motorway running first introduced in 2006 to handle short periods of high volumes of traffic by temporary use of the hard shoulder. As traffic volumes were high before the hard shoulder was opened, to speed of traffic was likely to be controlled by the volume of traffic at the time – I lived on a stretch of single carriageway road carrying rush hour commuter traffic on the outskirts of London and subject to the national speed limit. There were periods where traffic was of such volume that it could definitely not achieve the national speed limit and of such volumes that if leaving or approaching my house, it was easier to do so on the side of the road on which I lived and adjust my route accordingly to do so.

8 – I’m a retired veteran of REME and have experience of driving all classes of vehicle except PSV and road rollers and have travelled long distances widely throughout Europe and the UK on all classes for which I’m qualified. I personally do not feel safe on smart motorways and am subject to higher degrees of stress when doing so. Although I am opposed to losing a safety measure presented by a hard shoulder, I am less worried about DHS operation where the conditions are applied directly by the control room staff, but am totally opposed to ALR operation where the control room staff cannot guarantee maximum safety 100% of the time on the road, though not of the traffic, as they can only respond to developing situations rather than being in direct control of them.

 

April 2021