Written evidence submitted by Gary Hewitt (RSM0079)

 

Introduction

 

My name is Gary Hewitt, I’m a 50 year old communications engineer with Openreach, and Chair of Guiseley and Menston Neighbourhood Watch. I drive approximately 12,000 miles a year (6000 miles in a commercial vehicle, 6000 miles personal motoring). One of my hobbies is historic motorsport, and I regularly tow a car transporter/trailer loaded with a rally car, to and from motorsport events around the country. I also drive a classic car on occasions. I believe this varied mix of driving, in a variety of vehicles and on all types of roads has allowed me to gain an informed opinion on the practicality and safety of Britain’s highways, and I would like to share my opinions and suggestions via this Call for Evidence.

 

Is There Still A Need For Smart Motorways?

 

No, I don’t believe there is. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work forever, and I suggest that predictions for future road capacity are re-evaluated in light of increased home working and the reduced need for commuting. The rationale for creating “All Lane Running” Smart Motorways was to increase motorway capacity in line with the now-obsolete predictions as cheaply as possible, and without the need to increase the existing “footprint” of our motorways. I suggest that the proven traffic flow benefits of Controlled Motorways, with 3 actively-managed running lanes and a permanent hard shoulder, would prove more than adequate in preventing future congestion without the need for major structural alterations, while retaining the essential, irreplaceable hard shoulder. Furthermore, planned improvements to our railway network should help to reduce the amount of freight traffic on our motorway network, and I would like to see such a switch away from road transport and onto the rails encouraged by government. 

 

The Dangers Of Smart Motorways

 

These dangers have been widely highlighted by recent tragic events, and have been very well documented by the Smart Motorways Kill campaign and others who have had the courage to make a stand on this important issue. There simply is no substitute for a permanent, dedicated and continuous hard shoulder – our lifeline on the left. No amount of technology (Stopped Vehicle Detection, CCTV etc) can ever come close to providing a similar level of safety and reassurance to motorists travelling on ALR Smart Motorways as that afforded by the presence of a dedicated hard shoulder. The ability to instantly get your vehicle out of the immediate path of following vehicles in the event of a mechanical failure or medical emergency is absolutely essential, and I have been very pleased to see that the emergency services, transport professionals, recovery services and experienced motorists have been joined by coroners and road safety charities in condemning All Lane Running Smart Motorways as comparatively dangerous and unnerving. These people are the REAL experts on this subject, and their voices must no longer be ignored by government. The excessive distances between Emergency Refuge Areas, coupled with their minimal size, will always lead to a high number of live lane breakdowns – the deadliest of situations - as a stricken vehicle can rarely be expected to free-wheel for more than a few hundred yards - at the most. As I mentioned in my introduction, the majority of my motorway mileage is at the wheel of a car or van towing a loaded car transporter. The rolling resistance and gross train weight of my vehicle would almost certainly prevent me from being able to reach one of Highways England’s ERAs in the event of a mechanical failure, even without the very real danger of the next Refuge Area being already occupied. The thought of becoming stranded in a live lane absolutely terrifies me. The horrific carnage that such situations have already led to has been well documented, and these tragedies will undoubtedly continue to happen unless the hard shoulder is restored. Nothing less will suffice, and Britain’s motorists deserve nothing less.

Finally on the subject of Smart Motorway safety, please give consideration to the fact that the drivers and passengers of many older vehicles have been placed at even greater risk by Highways England’s fatally-flawed ALR design. Not only are these vehicles more likely to suffer the sort of mechanical failure which would result in a live lane breakdown, but they are also less well-equipped to protect their occupants and other road users in the event of such an emergency. Many classic vehicles do not have hazard warning lights, some don’t have inertia-reel seatbelts and hardly any have structural crumple zones. Even the lighting on older vehicles is much less bright than current models, leaving those cars in greatly increased danger of being hit by a following vehicle. Can it be right for new motorways to be opened which, without a shadow of a doubt, puts drivers of certain vehicles at greatly increased risk? Should drivers of such vehicles be forced to revert to using A and B roads only, as increasingly recommended by classic vehicle websites and magazines? Restoring the hard shoulder to current ALR Smart Motorways and retaining the hard shoulder on any future conversions would afford drivers of all vehicles the same level of safety.

I’m quite sure the issue of discrimination against motorists and their passengers with physical disabilities or limited mobility will have been raised during other submissions to this Call for Evidence, and I hope appropriate consideration is given to these viewpoints. The current situation on ALR Smart Motorways is far from equivalent, and requires urgent remedial action.

 

Is All Lane Running The Most Suitable Type Of Smart Motorway To Roll Out?  

 

No. Absolutely not. There can be no justification for All Lane Running schemes, and the roll out of this configuration should be ceased immediately. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to further avoidable loss of life, with all the suffering that brings. Britain’s motorists deserve better than that, and we are currently being let down by our government and by Highways England, in the name of cost-saving. We are not a poor country, and there is no longer any rush for increased motorway capacity. In the unlikely event that a need for increased capacity is positively identified then it should be achieved by widening the motorway where necessary, at all times retaining a permanent, dedicated and continuous hard shoulder.

Despite my opposition to ALR schemes, I strongly believe that the perfect design is already in operation on sections of our motorway network, and has been statistically proven to be the safest form of Smart Motorway. Controlled Motorways provide all the benefits of active traffic management, traffic smoothing and variable speed limits etc, while retaining the relative safety and reassurance of having a permanent hard shoulder. I truly believe this configuration is the correct way forward, and would provide a simple, cost-effective and – most importantly – safe way of resolving the catastrophic failings of All Lane Running. Conversion of existing ALR sections would be quick and easy, with only the permanent closure of the new left-hand lane (Lane 1) via the “Red X” system required – an upgrade which could be quickly made even clearer by altering the road markings to provide a solid white line between the restored hard shoulder and the 3 live running lanes. Job done. No need for expensive, time-consuming restoration work, and no need for a government “U-Turn”. This solution would be nothing more than the adoption of an improved Smart Motorway design - following consultation - and would demonstrate the government’s willingness to listen to expert advice, legal guidance and overwhelming public opinion.

 

Can Public Confidence In Smart Motorways Be Restored?

 

Certainly not with regard to All Lane Running. The very terminology is toxic, and with good reason. Every single opinion poll on the subject of Smart Motorways proves beyond doubt that the British public will never, ever accept the clear, undeniable and obvious dangers associated with All Lane Running. The ever-increasing death toll has ensured that to be the case, and the inevitable future disasters will only serve to harden opinion against Smart Motorways, Highways England and any government which continues to fail to take positive, meaningful action. There really is no substitute for a dedicated, permanent and continuous hard shoulder, and the British motoring public will accept nothing less. Highways England’s current advertising campaign tells motorists to “Go left!”, but this advice (which has been common knowledge for decades) is useless if there is no place of relative safety anymore on the left. Or at least, one which can be reached. Restoring the hard shoulder will instantly restore confidence in the use of our motorway network, as well as restoring a degree of faith in our politicians. I have seen lots of anecdotal evidence - online and in the press - that a huge number of motorists now actively avoid using Smart Motorways, especially ALR sections, forcing extra traffic onto the surrounding A and B roads. Surely this is massively counter-productive on a number of fronts? Only a clear change of direction from the government with regard to All Lane Running will encourage those motorists back onto our motorway network, and the restoration of our hard shoulder will undoubtedly go further than any other measure to achieve this.

 

Many thanks for taking the time to gather evidence on this urgent topic, and I hope that the only sensible, practical, logical conclusion is reached - an end to All Lane Running Smart Motorways, and the rapid restoration of our hard shoulder. Our lifeline.

 

April 2021