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News from the UK Civils Industry July 2019

Posted by: Melonie Debenham
Industry News

Smart motorways now safe enough to remove hard shoulder

Smart motorways mean drivers no longer require a hard shoulder, Highways England has said. 

Matt Pates, who manages the East Midlands division of Highways England, said the need for hard shoulders had now become redundant due to the improved safety of our motorways.

Highways England has so far converted more than 400 miles of road into smart motorways, including stretches on the M1, M4, M6, M25 and M62. Each stretch of highways fits into one of three categories:

  • Controlled - people cannot drive in the hard shoulder
  • Dynamic hard shoulder - the hard shoulder can be opened
  • All lanes running (ALR) - the hard shoulder has permanently become a lane

In the latest smart motorway model, hard shoulders are removed or reduced in size to improve traffic flow and open more lanes up to drivers.

Mr Pates said the advantage of the smart motorway was more cars could drive on it, clearer instructions could be given to drivers and emergency incidents were more quickly reacted to.

Smart motorways use technology to adapt speed limits based on traffic conditions. Sensors under the road surface and a “side-fire” radar work in tandem with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. They assess the volume and speed of vehicles and adjust the speed limits accordingly which are then projected on screens overhead. 

Speed limits can be lowered in busy stretches of motorway to avoid congestion. While speed limits can feel frustrating for some drivers, Mr Pates said that it works to prevent traffic jams.

"The computer slows the traffic down before it breaks down, it doesn't wait for it to happen,” he said.

However, the eradication of the hard shoulder has been criticised by road safety workers and a cross-party group of MPs has called for a safety review of smart motorways. 

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy at the AA, said the organisation was concerned the emergency refuge areas that have replaced the hard shoulder. They are currently a little more than one every mile on average. Cousens argues that this is not close enough together, and that drivers might panic if they broke down and could not see anywhere safe.

Mr Pates, addressing concerns about the hard shoulder, said it had been built decades ago when cars were less reliable and most drivers would now get advance warning before something went wrong with their vehicle.

Motorways are “as safe, if not safer” without hard shoulders which are not “hospitable” places for motorists, Mr Pates added.

Defending the new road model, a Highways England spokesman said research shows that smart motorways are as safe as traditional ones. 

“Smart motorways are good for drivers; they add extra lanes giving extra space in a cost effective way and means that technology can be used to make journeys safer and more reliable. Highways England plans to continue their development into future years,” the spokesman said.

“Highways England is proud to operate and maintain some of the safest roads in the world, and strive to design road surfaces with a good lifespan, providing overall good value for money and environmentally sympathetic characteristics. Our specifications provide details of best practise and clear instruction for the position and construction of joints to avoid premature distress and ensuing rectification of joints.” Full story.

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