The Blame Game

Bad drivers are to blame for crashes on smart motorways, says roads chief, according to the Times (The Times 19/10/2019).  A simplistic but likely reasonably accurate explanation; poor driving leads to collisions. But this has always been the case and the issues appear to be not so much that collisions occur but:

  • what to do when involved in a collision or incident and
  • where do you do it now the hard-shoulder has gone?

As for drivers being ‘reckless’ post-incident, this appears harsh … heedless of the danger or the consequences of their actions may be fitting, but why?  For some, the issues associated with a collision may cause them to act differently.  But rash or impetuous for stopping on “live” vehicle lanes without good reason?

Wait a moment …

  • all lanes are now ‘live’, at least until the control centre places an ‘X‘ above them – and many ignore this, plus:
  • a minor shunt suggests low speed … ‘minor’ incidents tend not to occur at 70 mph!  So is stopping in a live lane unreasonable? 

Minor incidents happen in slow-moving traffic i.e. in situations where stopping to exchange details is possibly reasonable.  Indeed, ‘fighting’ to get to the nearside to stop and exchange details, particularly after a ‘bump’ can be harrowing … and who is to say the other driver will understand or act appropriately!

Where does the Authority expect a driver to stop and exchange details on a ‘Smart Motorway’: what are they to do?

  • Minor shunts are just one reason a driver may have reason to stop. What of the other reasons?

Does the timing of the hard-shoulder removal coincide with a peak or increasing incidence of other factors, a combination of circumstances drastically increasing the need for refuges at the very time they are being removed?

Breakdowns, collisions, fluid spills and fires appear to be on the increase … or not reducing. 

  • Litter and debris not cleared

Litter and debris is a blight on our roads.  More about the problem can be found at  ‘Clean Highways‘. It is a seemingly never-ending issue;  the carriageway cleared, more appears.  But are roads cleaned often enough, or at all?  Since 2011, it appears attention is lacking – central reservation attention requires Traffic Management and ‘TM’ costs money.  So why not do it after an incident; ironically, the debris giving rise to the event could result in clearance!  Read more here. 

But could debris or litter be the cause of other events?

  • Fires

‘Every year in the UK, over 100,000 cars(nearly 300 a day) go up in flames and around 100 people die as a result’. 35% of car fires are accidental (source – fire service).

Many components of cars get hot.  Contact with combustible refuse material, such as paper, is inadvisable.

Litter and debris can interfere with items in the engine compartment, or damage them.  Fuel leaks and fires could result.  The outcome … the vehicle catches alight and a drivers immediate reaction is likely to be as far away from the machine which has a fuel tank and could lead to loss of life! Understandably, at the time, little consideration is given to the cause.   

Ian Evans, principal electrical engineer at Harmonic Solutions Oil and Gas, offers advice on what you should and shouldn’t do when your car catches fire – read more here.

Eventually, the fire burns out … along with causation evidence. Expect to be blamed for failing to maintain the vehicle. You are guilty until you prove yourself innocent. 

  • Spills

Common fluid spills involve fuel, hydraulic fluid or oil.

Worryingly, there are contradictory responses to requests for information about spills – and fires. It does not seem this is simply down to the periods sought.  For example, 04/2016 Baroness Vere of Norbiton asked the Department for Transport for data (written parliamentary question HL16041.  The response, for ‘financial years’:

Financial Year Spillage Fire
FY 2015-16 3,346  2,364
FY 2016-17  3,429 2,660
FY 2017-18 3,860 2,816
FY 2018-19 3,562 3,105
Total: 14,197 10,945

Spills have increased slightly, fires up by almost 50%.  However, a FoIA request provided calendar year statistics for spills:

2013 1,638
2014 1,669
2015 1,644
2016 2,185
2017 3,405
Total 10,541

The above figures indicate the doubling of spill events over the 5 years period.  Who is investigating these events to understand the cause and prevent the incidents? 

  • Blow-Outs

Litter and debris, which can take many forms, can also give rise to sudden unexpected loss of tyre pressure; a ‘blow-out’. 

For years, Highways England blamed poor maintenance for such incidents which often led to the loss of control and a collision – with other vehicles or ‘roadside furntiure’, also known as ‘Crown Property’, such as a barrier.  However, more recent information indicates the cause to be items picked up from the road.

Again, expect to be blamed for failing to maintain the vehicle. You are guilty until you prove yourself innocent. 

  • Flat Tyres

‘Highways England deal with a staggering 3,500 tyre-related incidents each month.’ (source: 2017 Clear Car Leasing).  At that time, drivers were blamed.

Whilst less ‘dramatic’, a flat tyre presents a danger; no hard shoulder present, should the driver be expected to limp to the nearest refuge, likely at reduced speed? 

  • Breakdown?

The RAC writes:
‘Let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take to stay safe if your vehicle breaks down on the motorway –
Pull over to the hard shoulder’.

The AA writes:
Don’t change your wheel on the hard shoulder of a motorway or at the side of a road. Turn off or pull over well away from the traffic and call us for help’

What hard shoulder?

  • Distracted Driving is Commonplace

Has the number of gadgets we have in a car peaked just at the time hard shoulders are removed? 

Distracted driving refers to the act of driving while engaging in other activities which distract the driver’s attention away from the road. Distractions are shown to compromise the safety of the driver, passengers, pedestrians, and people in other vehicle (source Wikipedia).

  • Four in five drivers put themselves and others in danger by being distracted at wheel
  • Up to one in six people on British roads are engaged in distracting behaviours at any given time
  • over a quarter of motorists may have had a near-collision because of distracted behaviours
  • one in ten motorists have had some form of collision (source  The independent).

More about distracted driving can be read here

  • Potholes 

We have seen years of increasing complaints about potholes, the numbers that remain unattended to, the cost of repairing them and … the damage they do to our vehicles.

Is it more or less likely the damage being inflicted on cars due to a failure to address a known problem results in an increased incidence of failure … that a failure to maintain a road is the cause of breakdowns which, frustratingly, the Authority will blame on a driver … for failing to maintain their vehicle! 

And you will be blamed if your vehicle catches fire or suffers a fluid spill!  You will be accused of not maintaining your vehicle, you will be expected to prove you maintained it.  Such is the onerous approach Highways England take toward a driver if the vehicle failed its MoT in its history, even it the problem was rectified (which it obviously should have been to be on the road), the vehicle is blighted .. this will be used against the owner!

10/2019: The same month as two coroners have written to Highways England ….

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