September 14, 2021The Highway Code & More Smart Motorway Data On The Way
First introduced to the UK in 2006, but having become more and more commonplace in recent years, smart motorways are designed to improve traffic congestion and increase capacity on many of the country’s busiest roads.
However, despite the innovation, they’ve also become a source of controversy recently, due to a number of accidents occurring on them. This has led to the Highway Code revealing it will be updated later this year to include smart motorways for the first time.
These updates will include information on how to use all-lane running (ALR) motorways, advice on where to stop in an emergency and emergency refuge (SOS) area signage.
As well as these Highway Code updates, the Government has called for more data on smart motorways, with the current data output being described as ‘severely limited’. This means it’s been difficult for any meaningful conclusions to have been made. In fact, over the last five years, only 29 miles of ALR motorways have been studied.
This new data, which will arrive in the autumn, will offer more transparency about the data it does provide in the hope of improving safety and the way it communicates changes to road users.
What is a Smart Motorway?
Despite having been around for some time now, there is still a degree of confusion about what smart motorways actually are.
Smart motorways were designed to increase road capacity, decrease congestion and control traffic flow. The main way this is done is via ALR motorways. This is where the hard shoulder becomes a ‘lane’ and, instead of it being just a place where vehicles can stop during an emergency, cars are encouraged to use it just as they would any other lane on the motorway.
Due to the hard shoulder being used in this way, emergency refuge areas have been marked out where, if possible, cars should stop instead if they have an emergency. Stopped vehicle detection technology (SVDT) is used on smart motorways to detect when vehicles are not moving, and provide them with the necessary support.
If vehicles are unable to make it to these areas, it will be down to the police or Highways England to shut the lane in order for a breakdown company to arrive and assist. This will be done by putting up a red ‘X’ to alert other road users not to use this lane.
Why is More Data Needed?
The main reason that the Government is seeking more data is due to the various health and safety instances that have occurred on smart motorways. In the most extreme cases, this has included fatalities and it’s clear that there are a number of concerns that must be addressed.
With the hard shoulder more frequently being used as an active lane, it has meant that when people do break down, they often find themselves trapped with traffic driving at high speed all around them. This is where the stopped vehicle detection technology is supposed to come in. However, when all-running lanes were initially introduced, this technology was not readily in place, meaning it was down to CCTV operators to spot broken down vehicles. On average, this was taking around 17 minutes, with it then taking a further three minutes to shut the lane. Clearly, this 20-minute wait puts drivers in danger, and it’s something the government is hoping that more data and an updated Highway Code will help to address.
Additionally, the Government has pledged to provide all smart motorways with stopped vehicle detection technology by 2022.
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