Thursday, April 22, 2021

News: Smart motorways through Rotherham need more measures to make them safe


Existing All Lane Running (ALR) motorways are set to have the technology to spot stopped or broken-down vehicles quickly fitted six months earlier than originally planned.

Highways England Smart Motorway schemes through the borough include the scheme on a ten mile stretch of the M1 between junctions 32 (south of Sheffield and Rotherham) and 35a (north of Sheffield and Rotherham) and a 20 mile stretch of the M1 between junction 28 (South Normanton) and 31 (Aston).

The multimillion pound projects include converting the hard shoulder to an extra traffic lane in both directions and variable mandatory speed limits and they deliver benefits at a significantly lower cost than conventional motorway widening, and with less impact on the environment during construction.

A legal case was launched last year after two men were killed when they were knocked down by a HGV near junction 34 of the M1 at Meadowhall. The Government published an action plan last year to boost safety, backed by a £500m investment.

ALR motorways are fitted with technology and features not seen on conventional motorways, such as set-back emergency areas, and red X signs on gantries to close live lanes. Radar detection to spot stopped vehicles is also being rolled out.

To accelerate improvements, by the end of September 2022, Highways England said that it would install radar technology on all existing stretches of ALR motorway, six months earlier than planned, upgrade special cameras ten months earlier than planned, so that they can be used to spot and prosecute motorists ignoring red X signs and illegally driving down closed lanes, putting themselves and others in danger, and install around 1,000 additional approach signs six months earlier than planned, alerting drivers to their nearest place to stop in an emergency.

Every new ALR motorway will open with the technology in place and more measures are expected when further research is complete.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "Despite the data showing that fatalities are less likely on All Lane Running motorways than on conventional ones, this doesn’t mean all drivers necessarily feel safe on them.

"That is why I tasked Highways England last year with delivering an action plan to raise the bar on safety measures even higher. This progress report shows the extensive work already carried out, but we want to do more.

"Alongside the raft of measures already undertaken, today I am announcing that all new All Lane Running motorways will open with stopped vehicle detection technology in place, as well as a programme to speed up the roll-out of the technology on previously built stretches of All Lane Running motorways to next year. This will help us further reduce the risk of accidents on the country’s roads."

"So-called smart motorways started to be built in 2001 and I am determined to ensure that technology and exacting standards are in place."

Highways England’s Acting Chief Executive Nick Harris added: "I want Highways England to continue to be an organisation that listens and puts the safety of road users first.

"We’ve made good progress delivering the improvements set out in the 2020 stocktake, but we are not complacent and are examining ways to improve safety further.

"We will continue implementing the findings, and will work with drivers to make increasingly busy motorways safer for everyone who uses them."

Claire Mercer from Rotherham, whose husband was killed on the M1, instructed Irwin Mitchell to fight for a judicial review of the decision to allow Smart Motorways to be brought in.

Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, welcomed the new technology but added that it "doesn’t address the fundamental problem."

Champion said: "While it can improve safety, in the end, all Highways England and the Government are doing is mitigating to a small degree a risk they themselves have created.

"Highways England continue to disingenuously offset the safety improvement that a managed environment delivers against the risk of removing the hard shoulder. But these are not mutually exclusive. A managed environment can be delivered while keeping the hard shoulder.

"If safety really was the number one priority, then delivering basic safety measures like properly spaced refuges would have been built into the design from the word go. Instead, we must wait two years from the publication of the initial report simply to learn the outcome of a review.

"I am gravely concerned that more lives will be lost whilst we wait. The Government should immediately commit to restore the hard shoulder pending work to install additional refuges. If it’s not be possible to deliver these safely, they should return to traditional operation, with a hard shoulder."

Images: Highways England


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