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Written evidence submitted by ITS United Kingdom (RSM0107)

 

 

• the benefits of smart motorways, for instance to reduce congestion on busy sections of motorway, and how necessary they are;

 

Miles driven on the English motorway network increased by 23% 2000 – 2020.  The network is under increasing pressure and users, including commercial freight operators, rightly demand reasonably predictable journey times.  At the same time, building new road capacity has become more protracted and less desirable for environmental and public acceptance reasons.

 

We believe that the alternative to smart motorways are very congested conditions at peak times on the busiest parts of the network, or a protracted and contested programme of road widening and new road building over the next twenty years.

 

The various forms of smart motorways reduce congestion and deliver more reliable journeys

 

The decision on the future of smart motorways has to be a political one, but we urge a wide consultation and an appraisal of all the relevant facts – safety, environmental, the timely and reliable transporting of goods and people, accessibility, inclusivity of transport provision, social outcomes - as part of this process.

 

• the safety of smart motorways, the adequacy of safety measures in place and how safety could be improved;

 

They deliver safety benefits since they reduce fluctuations in speed and weaving between lanes.  This is a fact, but we must not therefore ignore that the lack of a permanent hard shoulder also creates a new risk.

 

There has rightly been a heavy emphasis on rigorous evaluation of safety outcomes starting with the initial M42 trials of hard shoulder running, and there is now an in our opinion sufficiently independent and therefore trustworthy body of research reports on the safety of dynamic and permanent hard shoulder running.  The UK is internationally respected for its road safety and transport technology expertise, and the individuals and organisations who have worked on this for the last twenty years should be listened to.  All decisions on future actions should be taken based on this research and not on individual incidents.  If changes are made to any aspect of smart motorways, they must also be accompanied by the commissioning of independent study and evaluation, always for open publication.

 

The recent recommendations and decisions regarding improving the technology implementations on smart motorways are in our opinion very welcome.  It is well known that human observation in control rooms and on-road is limited in terms of attention span and detail, and safety can only be improved by providing further technical assistance to operators.  Improved automated monitoring and data collection will assist in improving safety.  This area of technology is evolving all the time and the UK must stay at the forefront of both development and deployment.  Whether the motorway has a hard shoulder or not, our aim should be for incident detection and mitigation to be almost immediate.

 

With the increased penetration of connected vehicle technology into the fleet, we are also now at a stage where we should begin to consider how C-ITS (cooperative intelligent transport systems) with automated vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure, and infrastructure to vehicle data exchange should influence how we plan for a future safe motorway network.

 

• whether All Lane Running is the most suitable type of smart motorway to roll out or if there are better alternatives;

 

We are aware that there are two schools of thought – that ALR is easier for drivers to manage since it is a fixed situation they encounter each time they drive that stretch, or that dynamic hard shoulder running is safer for the opposite reason, that the dynamic element keeps the driver engaged and alert, a general problem of the usually monotonous motorway driving task for those driving to an average standard.  On this we defer to human factor specialists and urge that as above, their independent views are collected and properly taken into account.

 

• public confidence in using smart motorways and how this could be improved;

 

There is no doubt that public confidence is low, in part due to selective press interest where a fatal crash on a motorway stretch without a hard shoulder is reported much more extensively than an equally tragic crash on a section with a hard shoulder.

 

However, there has been both public and political unease since the first trials which the evaluation and reporting mentioned above never succeeded in addressing.  In terms of the public, it is easy to understand that when something so firmly taboo as driving on the hard shoulder is encouraged, a reaction of unease and distrust is to be expected.  Politicians are drivers too and so is the largest part of their electorate and so we find ourselves in this situation of low confidence.

 

There is also no doubt that driving safely as part of the very mixed fleet using our very busy motorway network is a very challenging task and that driver training, testing and ongoing information have probably not kept pace with how this particular driving environment has changed over the past thirty years or so.

 

We welcome the consultation on amending the Highway Code and the advertising campaigns currently in circulation as very helpful attempts to address this.  Going forward, we believe that all actors, and that includes us in the transport technology sector, should put more effort into being aware of the actual vehicles and people who use the network and designing services that work for a larger majority of them.  This includes vehicles which while road legal may be far from state of the art, and drivers who hold valid licenses who may not be driving with the highest levels of skill.

 

Whether a motorway has a hard shoulder or not, it is a highly complex and demanding environment and one good outcome of the current smart motorways controversy would be if we could generally upskill the millions of non-professional drivers who use it.

 

It is also a fact that most drivers undertake little or no refresher type training once they have passed their driving test.  Updating the Highway Code is a good initiative but it should be assumed that very few license holders will read the new version.  Public information campaigns, including about how to behave safely in the case of a breakdown on any type of motorway, must be well designed and continuous.  It has been very clearly shown recently that the simple requirement in the case of being stranded on the hard shoulder away from a refuge area, to leave the vehicle and get behind the barrier and a distance away while awaiting assistance, is understood by very few motorway users.  A member of our staff was laughed at by a well known radio presenter when he stated that this was the current Highway Code requirement.

 

• the impact of smart motorways on the usage and safety of other roads in the strategic road network;

 

Drivers’ understanding and mis-understanding of the road transfer between types of road which to an average driver seem the same – how many users of a motorway and a dualled A-road change their behaviours when they join one from the other?  Driver information and education intended to improve safety on smart motorways must be designed to work also on the rest of the network, which in most cases will not be difficult.

 

 

• the effectiveness of Highways England’s delivery of the smart motorways programme, the impact of construction works, and the costs of implementation.

 

It is not appropriate for us to comment on this since so many of our Members have worked for, HE on all aspects of this.

 

April 2021