‘The purpose of building a shoulder is that in the event of an emergency or breakdown, a motorist can pull into the shoulder to get out of the flow of traffic and obtain a greater degree of safety‘ – source WikiPedia
It follows, in the absence of no other changes, removing the hard-shoulder reduces the safety of road users.
The House of Commons Transport Committee (2016) published a report claiming that the conversion of the hard shoulder into a running lane was a “radical change” and an “unacceptable price to pay” for journey improvements. Whilst accepting that the network needs updating to prevent unmanageable congestion by 2040, the House of Commons Transport Committee (2016) argues that there are major concerns over the safety of converting the hard shoulder into a running lane. (source).
Is the system no more than a cash-cow? £6 million in 2 years from fines – source.
So what is ‘smart’ about the latest version of the motorway that sees the hard shoulder being turned into a live-running lane?
- overhead gantries variable speed limit / ‘X’ signs
- computers constantly monitoring the road, which can change the speed limit on their own (30/06/2019 BBC)
The project appears to have been borrowed from a USA idea with the Authority questioning whether, in an age of more reliable vehicles, there is actually a need for an emergency lane.
However, this ‘reliability’ is at odds with data:
- Fires – remain reasonably constant between 2013 and 2017
- Spills – more than doubled between 2013 and 2017
- Breakdowns – 02/08/2019 breakdowns UP by 20% in 5 years – possibly the result of poorly maintained roads (pot-holes?).
- Punctures – in the main caused by road debris NOT driver inattention
With litter & debris seemingly being too costly to remove, is it any wonder there are fires, spills, swerve-to-avoid (items in the carriageway) incidents and burst tyres giving rise to vehicle loss of control, potential collision and breakdown.
In 2016, a cross-party committee of MPs warned that while smart motorways were a cheap way of cutting congestion by expanding capacity, they were a ‘short cut at the expense of lives’.
Whilst emergency refuge areas are positioned at 1.6-mile intervals it is claimed this is not immediately clear to motorists and that safety concerns have led to Highways England increasing the number of smart motorway refuge areas, with one appearing every mile where possible – an acknowledgement that they got it wrong?
‘But what if you break down in between them? You’re screwed. It’s a lay-by lottery. Lose, and prepare for death barrelling up behind you.’ (Richard Mager – Express 09/2019).