Written evidence submitted by Nick Schollar (RSM0064)

I am an engineer, but I do not work in transport, so this evidence comes from the point of view of a road user.

My most worrying experience with a smart motorway was when another vehicle broke down in the nearside lane while it was live and all lanes were running. This car had already stopped when I encountered it, so I do not know how long it was there for, but it had moved over to the far left. The vehicle had not been detected, so the lane was not closed. The response of the vehicles approaching it was either to slam on the brakes and signal to move into the next lane upon noticing it, or to squeeze through the gap between it and the next lane. Had the smart motorway been monitored for its entire length, the lane could have been closed, but it wasn’t. I think that the fact that a lane is indicated as open by a digital sign gives a sense of false security that it’s always OK to drive in the lane and that less attention needs to be paid to the surroundings or maintaining a safe 2-second gap – something which was not maintained on the busy motorway during this incident.

The plan to roll out stopped vehicle detection systems is a step in the right direction which can’t come soon enough.

The 1 mile spacing of refuge areas is not frequent enough. If the traffic is moving slowly at the time of an incident, it will not be possible to coast very far, making it unlikely that the area will be reached. Where the land is reasonably flat to the side of the motorway, it should be possible to move a vehicle onto a grass verge, which will provide a safe alternative without the expense of building more refuge areas, but this is frequently impossible due to the installation of crash barriers right next to the motorway. Where possible, crash barriers should be moved away from the motorway to allow use of the verge as a refuge area, but if that is not acceptable, refuge areas should be built at much more frequent intervals. The refuge area interval should be further reduced in cases where the gradient of the direction of travel is uphill because vehicles will slow down faster when coasting uphill.

 

 

April 2021