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Making smart motorways safer: the action plan

20 March 2020
 

The following is an abridged version of the DfT’s action plan.

Ending the use of dynamic hard shoulders ?

This type of smart motorway has the potential to cause confusion for motorists because the hard shoulder is sometimes in use for traffic and sometimes not. Also, as time goes on and the motorway becomes busier, the hard shoulder is in use for longer periods of time. The simple solution to end this potential for confusion is to convert the hard shoulder permanently into a traffic lane. We are announcing that we will convert all existing dynamic hard shoulder smart motorways into all lane running by the end of March 2025 so there will be only one type without a permanent hard shoulder. This will provide a more consistent experience for motorists. 

Faster rollout of stopped vehicle detection Highways England has been asked to deliver this in three years, bringing this programme forward by several years. All smart motorways already include a system called MIDAS (Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling) that uses sensors to monitor traffic volumes and automatically set signs and signals as the motorway becomes more congested. Highways England has also trialled and implemented a separate radar-based stopped vehicle detection (SVD) system on two smart motorway sections of the M25 and is in the process of installing it on a smart motorway section of the M3. The advantage of the SVD system is it is specifically designed to detect a stationary vehicle, typically in 20 seconds, set a message automatically on electronic signs, and alert a control room operator who can see the incident on camera, close lanes and dispatch an on-road Highways England traffic officer to attend to the stopped vehicle. Smart motorway schemes completing design in 2020 will be the first to have the SVD technology as standard. While Highways England is committed to rolling out SVD to every existing ALR smart motorway, until now there has not been a public timetable for this work. As a result of this evidence stocktake, Highways England has been asked to accelerate its plans and install the technology on all lane running smart motorways within the next 36 months. 

Highways England has been investigating other technologies for detecting stopped vehicles and has run a small-scale trial of a system that analyses CCTV images. As a result of this evidence stocktake, Highways England will launch a large-scale trial of this technology. This will make greater use of the full CCTV coverage on smart motorways, providing another option alongside current radar technology. 

Faster attendance by more Highways England traffic officer patrols ?

We are committing to introduce additional traffic officer patrols on smart motorways where the existing spacing between safe places to stop in an emergency is more than one mile. We aim to reduce the attendance time from an average of 17 minutes to ten minutes.

Committing to a new standard for spacing of places to stop in an emergency ?

Design standards have been amended to reduce the distance between safe places to stop in an emergency to a maximum of one mile. In practice, across the first four schemes for which designs have been prepared to this one-mile maximum spacing standard, the average distance between places to stop in an emergency is 0.75 miles. Going forward, we will commit to a maximum spacing of one mile apart and look to, where feasible, provide them every 3⁄4 of a mile. 

Delivering ten additional emergency areas on the M25 ?

We are re-confirming the commitment to install ten extra emergency areas on the M25 on the section of smart motorway with a higher rate of live lane stops and where places to stop in an emergency are furthest apart.

Considering a national programme to install more emergency areas on existing smart motorways 

We will consider a national programme of retrofitting additional emergency areas on existing smart motorways where places to stop in an emergency are more than one mile apart, drawing on evidence from the programme to deliver additional emergency areas on the M25. The roadworks for the M25 programme have involved closure of the left- hand lane which has caused congestion and delays. Consideration of a national programme needs to look in detail at how to minimise the impact on motorists during construction, such as coordinating the work with other planned improvements and maintenance activity. ?

Investigate M6 Bromford viaduct and sections of the M1 ?

We have heard the concerns about clusters of incidents on specific sections of the M6 and M1 smart motorway. This includes the M6 Bromford viaduct between Junctions 5 and 6, where places to stop in an emergency are furthest apart. Though Highways England traffic officers are stationed at each end of the viaduct so they are close by, we know that some people remain worried. Concerns have also been raised about sections of the M1 where multiple collisions have occurred. These include M1 Junctions 10 to 13 (Luton) and Junctions 30 to 35 (Sheffield). We have also seen evidence of multiple incidents on the M1 Junctions 39 to 42 (Wakefield). We are committing to investigate urgently what more could be done on the M6 Bromford viaduct and on these sections of the M1.  ?

Making emergency areas more visible ?

We are committing to ensuring that all existing emergency areas will have a bright orange road surface, dotted lines on the surfacing showing where to stop, better and more frequent signs on approach to the emergency area showing where it is and new signs inside giving information on what to do in an emergency. These improvements will be installed by the end of spring 2020

More communication with drivers 

We are committing to £5m on national and targeted communications campaigns to further increase awareness and understanding of smart motorways, how they work and how to use them confidently. 

Displaying 'report of obstruction' messages ?

The stopped vehicle detection system sends an alert to a control room. It can also automatically display a message on an electronic overhead sign. We are committing to rolling out the automatic display of a 'report of obstruction' message on overhead signs to warn oncoming drivers of a stopped vehicle ahead, which has begun being trialled on the M25 Junctions 23 to 27 and Junctions 5 to 7 - and then to begin on the M3 Junctions 2 to 4a. ?

Places to stop in an emergency shown on your satnav ?

Many motorists use a satnav device to follow a route to their destination and we want information on where to stop in an emergency to be easily available. In addition to the new signs, we are committing to work with satnav providers to ensure that places to stop in an emergency, such as motorway services, emergency areas and remaining areas of hard shoulder such as on slip roads, are shown on the screen of the device when needed. 

Making it easier to call for help if broken down ?Increasing numbers of new cars come with an eCall or 'SOS' button which can be used to call for help. We are committing to work with car manufacturers to build greater awareness and understanding of this function in newer cars.

We have changed the law to enable automatic detection of red 'X' violations and enforcement (three points, £100 fine) using cameras 

Smart motorways have overhead signs that can display a 'red X'. A 'red X' means the lane is closed to traffic and vehicles must not continue in that lane beyond the 'red X' sign. Where a vehicle has broken down, a control room operator can switch on the 'red X' sign to close the lane behind, reducing the risk of a collision between the stopped vehicle and oncoming traffic. To help the police bring compliance closer to 100 per cent, we have changed the law to enable automatic detection of red X violations and enforcement using cameras. 

?

Closer working with the recovery industry

Recovery vehicle operators are never required to recover a broken-down vehicle from a live lane on a smart motorway, unlike on other types of road. On a smart motorway, Highways England traffic officers or the police either close the lane first before recovery takes place, or they tow the vehicle to an emergency area or another place to stop in an emergency before the recovery operator begins work. Despite this existing work, we recognise that there is more we could do. We are therefore committing to closer working with the recovery industry on improving training and procedures. ?

Review of use of red flashing lights to commence immediately ?

We have listened to the calls for recovery vehicles to be allowed to use red flashing lights. We will commence work immediately on a review. 

 
 
Strategy Programme Manager - Implementation
Hertfordshire County Council
Hertford
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Strategy Programme Manager – Strategy
Hertfordshire County Council
Hertford
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Senior Investment Planning Manager
Highways England
Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds
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