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How do we make Smart Motorways safer?
Question

Smart Motorways bring significant benefits, as they have been designed and implemented to address recurrent congestion on heavily used sections of motorways. We submitted a response to the Transport Select Committee on the roll-out and safety of smart motorways.

Our view is that firstly, safety can be improved by reducing the number of times vehicles stop on motorways and then improving how they are detected, and other drivers then warned and instructed, as illustrated in this diagram. 


Smart Motorways Infographic.pdf

In order to achieve this we believe that the Government should:

  • Think users: through more training and increasing vehicle roadworthiness.
  • Make use of what is there already: using sat nav for in-vehicle messaging and services such as Waze, to alert drivers.
  • Safeguard the future: through learning lessons from other transport modes.
We have also written a blog on this topic with more information: How do we make Smart Motorways safer?

We are interested in your thoughts on making Smart Motorways more safe, our proposed solutions, or if there is anything that we've missed. Please log in to your IET Community account to share your comments.

 
23 Replies
Simon Barker
923 Posts
It would be a good thing if the Highways Agency implemented what they promised to do when "smart motorways" were introduced:
  • Frequent emergency laybys to pull off into.
  • Automatic detection of broken down cars by radar.
  • Automatic signage to warn drivers of broken down vehicles ahead.
Instead they missed out the laybys if they were too much effort (e.g. if the motorway was on an embankment), and left the broken down vehicle detection and warning signs as something to do later, long after they have turned the hard shoulder into a running lane.

I don't think adding more technology is going to help what is a fundamentally dangerous system.  There's no point in broadcasting messages to satnav systems if there is no guarantee that the following vehicles even have satnavs that are capable of receiving those messages.

What it needs is for the system to be done right in the first place.  Warnings and lane closures indicated to drivers by overhead signs.  Automatic red light cameras to catch all the people who still run through the red lights, and plenty of publicity when people are convicted for doing so.
Roger Bryant
335 Posts
Will the changing work and commuter patterns started by the Covid outbreak make Smart Motorways obsolete?
mapj1
3753 Posts
There is the point that most of the automated motorway signage about lane closures, animals in the road, ice etc are left switched on long after the hazard has passed, and this is a very poor practice, and not at all erring on the side of safety.
There is little point in slowing the traffic for a non-event, after all the whole aim is to keep it moving. And you are teaching drivers not to take it seriously. 
So a sign saying breakdown 1 mile ahead, or xx metres ahead is useful, you know what to expect and when, but turn it off as soon as the road is clear, not 30 mins later.

A sign that in effect might as well say 'take care, unknown hazard at unknown distance ahead, or probably not there at all really' is asking to be ignored.
And will be treated with contempt.
M.
We are not that far from self drive capable vehicles  becoming common, perhaps humans should not be in control. 
Motorway could become swarms increasing capacity and safety. The action today requires motorway sensors and probably a standardised protocol for how the motorway speaks to vehicles and vice versa. 

 
Zoomup
3131 Posts
Peter Tillotson:
We are not that far from self drive capable vehicles  becoming common, perhaps humans should not be in control. 
Motorway could become swarms increasing capacity and safety. The action today requires motorway sensors and probably a standardised protocol for how the motorway speaks to vehicles and vice versa. 

 

To make "smart motorways" safer just ban them. They are death traps.

The term "smart motorway" is an oxymoron, like saying safe electric shock.

Z.

Zoomup
3131 Posts
IET SEP Editorial:

Smart Motorways bring significant benefits, as they have been designed and implemented to address recurrent congestion on heavily used sections of motorways. We submitted a response to the Transport Select Committee on the roll-out and safety of smart motorways.

Our view is that firstly, safety can be improved by reducing the number of times vehicles stop on motorways and then improving how they are detected, and other drivers then warned and instructed, as illustrated in this diagram. 


Smart Motorways Infographic.pdf

In order to achieve this we believe that the Government should:

  • Think users: through more training and increasing vehicle roadworthiness.
  • Make use of what is there already: using sat nav for in-vehicle messaging and services such as Waze, to alert drivers.
  • Safeguard the future: through learning lessons from other transport modes.
We have also written a blog on this topic with more information: How do we make Smart Motorways safer?

We are interested in your thoughts on making Smart Motorways more safer, our proposed solutions, or if there is anything that we've missed. Please log in to your IET Community account to share your comments.

 

"We are interested in your thoughts on making Smart Motorways more safer,"

Safer or more safe surely?

It can't be done.

Z.

Simon Barker:
It would be a good thing if the Highways Agency implemented what they promised to do when "smart motorways" were introduced:
  • Frequent emergency laybys to pull off into.
  • Automatic detection of broken down cars by radar.
  • Automatic signage to warn drivers of broken down vehicles ahead.
Instead they missed out the laybys if they were too much effort (e.g. if the motorway was on an embankment), and left the broken down vehicle detection and warning signs as something to do later, long after they have turned the hard shoulder into a running lane.

I don't think adding more technology is going to help what is a fundamentally dangerous system.  There's no point in broadcasting messages to satnav systems if there is no guarantee that the following vehicles even have satnavs that are capable of receiving those messages.

What it needs is for the system to be done right in the first place.  Warnings and lane closures indicated to drivers by overhead signs.  Automatic red light cameras to catch all the people who still run through the red lights, and plenty of publicity when people are convicted for doing so.

Simon is spot on, Highways Agency should be doing what there were supposed to in the first place, and not getting distracted by fancy high tech solutions to a problem they have created.

I would add that signs need to be updated quicker as out of date signs brings the whole system into disrepute.

They are a Death Trap.
I was on the M1 near Bedford in the all lane running when a car in front of me in the outside lane had a tyre blow out (not uncommon) he instinctively  veered to the left and with no hard shoulder so nearly caused a multiple pile up. Since then I have rerouted all my trips to avoid the Smart Motorway sections.

Someone has done a cost/benefit calculation weighing up the cost of adding real capacity versus the economic cost of say 1000 extra deaths on the roads and it no doubt looks like a clever thing to do, if you are an accountant.

I guess this and all the other reviews will be a sham.
Shapps expressed concern in March 2020, and a week later signed off another contract, released on a Friday night and missed by the press. 
Maybe it will take a minibus full of school kids to be wiped out before the political pressure is such that they are abandoned.

 
Many responses, including the IET's, have addressed the rational issues of risk quantification and the technical issues of sensor performance and data processing.  Until recently, that has also been my approach.  However, I'm struck by the individual stories and perceptions.  It's true that "data is not the plural of anecdote" but I do think that public perception has to be given much more weight. For that reason, My view on Smart Motorways is now much more nuanced and I do not believe that there should be any further roll-out for the foreseeable future. 
mapj1
3753 Posts
~I think all it needs is the lay-by areas to increased in length until they become a continuous stripe along beside the left hand lane, so there is always somewhere for breakdowns to go, and an area that can be used by police etc as an emergency access lane when there is an accident.
Then the fact the signs do not come on when you breakdown in any lane but the LH one and the fact that when they do come on they stay on for ages after the road is clear, will be less important.
Mike.
I commented earlier and came back to see any new contributions, it has a tiny number of comments so I guess its just not seen by anyone.

It concerns me that the IET will lend some credibility to what is a ridiculous scheme, that no amount of technology that could be implemented in the short term can fix.
People will die.
Your comment:
"In order to achieve this we believe that the Government should:
  • Think users: through more training and increasing vehicle roadworthiness.
  • Make use of what is there already: using sat nav for in-vehicle messaging and services such as Waze, to alert drivers.
  • Safeguard the future: through learning lessons from other transport modes."
None of this will make any difference, and the IET is likely to be quoted in the daily press by Shapps as supporting the project.
If you cant bring yourselves to file a critical assessment it is better that you do not respond at all.
You should take note that the Commanders of two of the Police Forces in the North have fiercely criticised it.
Simon Barker
923 Posts
We are interested in your thoughts on making Smart Motorways more safer, our proposed solutions, or if there is anything that we've missed. Please log in to your IET Community account to share your comments.

 

If you're interested in our thoughts, why did you publish that submission before asking anybody else in the IET what they thought of it?

Three points.
" Analysis of safety and performance data on implemented Smart Motorway schemes has shown overall improvements in safety" This phrase has been regularly rolled out but the IET document could be improved by referencing the actual analysis so we can draw our own conclusions.

"However, the percentage of EVs running out of power only accounts for 4% of EV breakdowns in the UK." This is probably because electric cars are only 4% of the cars running on the road. So this will get to be a real problem as the number of electric cars inevitably increases.

The tone of the driver education piece appears to be along the lines of, "maintain your car or expect to be killed when you break down." It is clearly intended to divert the attention to the driver and maintenance of the car rather than the danger posed by the lack of hard shoulder. Well maintained cars still breakdown. I'd dont want to be put at unnecessarily high risk if that happens. I see a potential parallel in health care: scrap ambulances to spend the money on bigger hospitals and an education programme encouraging the population to look after themselves and not get ill to avoid dying when they cant get to hospital - unlikely to be a popular policy.
Simon Barker
923 Posts
William Parke:

"However, the percentage of EVs running out of power only accounts for 4% of EV breakdowns in the UK." This is probably because electric cars are only 4% of the cars running on the road. So this will get to be a real problem as the number of electric cars inevitably increases.

 

Do you want to try reading that quote again.  Only 4% of EV breakdowns are caused by running out of power.  Not 4% of all breakdowns.

The solution to that is to have a charging network that's fit for purpose.  Not a random collection of charging networks, each with a different payment method, and with chargers being left un-repaired for weeks or months when they break down.

Fair point and thats after including it as a quote 😧. Does make me wonder though what percentage of all breakdowns are made up of EVs and which direction it is trending - will the EV + Driver system proove to be more reliable than the nonEV vehicle plus driver system? I suspect power drain will be an increasing percentage of EV breakdowns as growing EV numbers outstrip the poor charging infrastructure, drivers get more blaze about having enough juice in the battery for the next leg and EVs come to be driven by all parts of the population. Which ever way it goes breaking down on the motorway should not be Russian Roulette.
Simon Barker:
We are interested in your thoughts on making Smart Motorways more safer, our proposed solutions, or if there is anything that we've missed. Please log in to your IET Community account to share your comments.

 

If you're interested in our thoughts, why did you publish that submission before asking anybody else in the IET what they thought of it?

Hi Simon,

The consultation did go out to members for comments before it was submitted. Our Transport Lead is away this week but will be able to provide more details on return. This is an opportunity to share further thoughts for any of our future work.

Thanks

Can you provide a link to the submission please.
Denis McMahon
346 Posts
mapj1:
There is the point that most of the automated motorway signage about lane closures, animals in the road, ice etc are left switched on long after the hazard has passed, and this is a very poor practice, and not at all erring on the side of safety.
There is little point in slowing the traffic for a non-event, after all the whole aim is to keep it moving. And you are teaching drivers not to take it seriously. 
So a sign saying breakdown 1 mile ahead, or xx metres ahead is useful, you know what to expect and when, but turn it off as soon as the road is clear, not 30 mins later.

A sign that in effect might as well say 'take care, unknown hazard at unknown distance ahead, or probably not there at all really' is asking to be ignored.
And will be treated with contempt.
M.

I entirely agree. I see little point in adding even more technical sophistication to motorway signage if we can't overcome this too-frequent problem of "crying wolf".

Denis McMahon
346 Posts
When I drive on a smart motorway in non-congested conditions I simply don't use the left lane, even if it is open and fairly clear. I notice that some, but by no means all, other drivers act likewise.

The serious smart motorway accidents that I hear about involve a vehicle at high speed crashing into a stationary vehicle in lane 1 - i.e. non-congested conditions.

My suggestion, which could take immediate effect, would be to close the left lane with the red X except during the congested conditions that smart motorways are supposed to overcome. When vehicles are queuing at slow speed, a high speed collision is much less likely to occur. If a vehicle in a slow queue looses speed it slows down the queue behind it, possibly to a standstill. In congested conditions, illuminated speed restriction signs are usually functioning anyway.
Arthur Monks:
Can you provide a link to the submission please.

The roll-out and safety of Smart Motorways (theiet.org)

All the rules, laws and technology in the world won't change the public's behaviour without some enforcement.

The rot really set in when the Highways Agency took over motorway patrolling from the Police, supposedly to save money (haha).  Now they sit in their £40K 4x4s at the services with their engines running waiting for an incident.  At least Police officers could be doing useful enforcement of moving traffic offences and were available to support all other policing activities instead of sitting around.

Smart motorways should be conditional on the provision of much faster response from the HA.  Especially the removal of notifications.  My personal straw pole of matrix signs suggests they are wrong approximately 70 to 80% of the time due to being in the wrong place, typically after the incident, or in the wrong carriageway, or most often simply not cancelled for hours (personal record was 5 hours after I knew the incident was cleared as I had stopped for it and I saw the same warnings still showing when I returned later).

We kill around 3000 people a year on the roads (2020 excepted).  The majority of these deaths are entirely avoidable.  Think what the pressure on the aviation industry would be if 10 A380s a year crashed in the UK!  Sadly the political will isn't there to upset the electorate by compelling them to raise their driving standards.  Think of the boost to public transport if the drivers who couldn't understand a lane closure sign lost their licence!

Dave.
former ADI, Examiner, RoSPA Instructor.
 
Since no reply was made to my request for the document link a few days ago, I have found it:
https://www.theiet.org/impact-society/government-policy-and-submissions/submissions-archive/the-roll-out-and-safety-of-smart-motorways-2021/
Published 9 April.
The document is a whitewash, no real reference to the Deaths caused so far and those that will follow because of the fundamentally flawed roll out.

 
I apologise, you had provided the link, I didn't see it.

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