Written evidence submitted by Mr Darren Goodsell (RSM0102)
I am making a submission to this enquiry based on my personal experience as a driver.
Britain’s motorways are generally very pleasant to use thanks to their geometry, the space available, the similar speeds of vehicles, the high standard of construction and the knowledge that, should there be a sudden problem with one’s vehicle, there is always a place of relative safety in the hard shoulder.
Controlled motorways have very clear benefits: the ability to regulate the speed limit maximises road capacity during busy periods, and provides ancillary safety benefits by (for example) enabling lane closures ahead to be signalled in advance, reducing the need for personnel to close off live lanes with cones. Importantly for public confidence, I believe these benefits are tangible, especially when explained well.
Motorways with dynamic hard shoulders have always been confusing, as drivers are conditioned to interpreting particular road markings in specific ways, notably that crossing solid lines is generally forbidden. The isolated and unpredictable instruction to ignore this conditioning is mildly alarming, therefore detrimental to drivers’ concentration and ultimately reducing safety. As their use is now deprecated anyway, I will not comment further other than to endorse their proposed removal.
All-lane Running (ALR) motorways avoid the sudden confusion of lane markings changing their meaning, but instead cause continuous discomfort. Although I am a confident driver, I nevertheless find ALR motorways disconcerting because I know that the continuous position of safety of the hard shoulder is not always available. Though I have never experienced a major problem on an ALR motorway, I think it is fair to assume that the lack of hard shoulder engenders panic in drivers who do, thus likely making the consequences of any individual incident more severe.
A frequent riposte to this is that dual carriageway A-roads also do not have a hard shoulder, yet do not attract the same complaint. The difference is that dual carriageway A-roads are generally quieter, and normally have soft verges without barriers. Thus, in an incident, there is still scope to remove one’s vehicle and its occupants to a place of safety away from the carriageway, or at least move the vehicle sufficiently far that it presents a smaller hazard to oncoming traffic. The lower speed limits for larger vehicles and the lower volume of traffic also mean that the perceived risk is much lower, and this is important for driver confidence.
ALR motorways often have Armco barriers along their nearside edge. This means that, away from refuges, there is absolutely no way to remove the vehicle from danger, and furthermore makes it more difficult for people to move themselves clear of the danger, especially if they have reduced mobility.
Highways England have produced statistics indicating that smart motorways experience fewer accidents than their traditional counterparts. Whilst this might be true, it is of no comfort to somebody stranded in a live lane. The continued use of such statistics should be deprecated in favour of a common-sense assessment based on natural driver reactions. In no conceivable scenario would this result in isolated refuges being seen as superior to a continuous place of relative safety.
In summary, I believe that whilst controlled motorways are a beneficial upgrade to busier sections, all-lane running has fundamentally diminished the safety and confidence of drivers. They should revert to their original configuration, with continuous hard shoulders. Where this would cause an unacceptable loss of capacity, moves must be taken to properly upgrade sections by adding an additional lane in order to reinstate a continuous hard shoulder, despite the land take this would require.