Road safety has been making headlines once again and sadly not for the best reasons. Highways England has been under harsh criticism for their implementation of smart motorways in highly congested areas. The act of which includes adapting hard shoulders into an additional lane. There are now over 400 miles of smart motorways in operation, leading to a significant impact on the safety of many road users.
Whilst road safety campaigners have been protesting against smart motorways for some time, the official figures surrounding its dangers weren’t released until recently. A Freedom of Information request on a section of the M25 outside London revealed that this stretch of road has seen a huge 1,963% rise in near misses*. Only 72 near misses were recorded in the 5 years before this road was turned into a smart motorway, the following 5 years saw a shocking 1,485. Whilst none of these 1,485 near misses resulted in any injuries, this is still a considerable increase. Furthermore, In addition to the elevated level of near misses, the number of deaths occurring on this small stretch of road over the 5 year period stands at 38.
Amongst the fundamental issue of removing the hard shoulder, there are other issues such as:
- Lack of education to road users on how to drive on smart motorways and what to do in an emergency situation.
- An increase in refuge area spacing from the 800m gaps used during the trial in which the scheme was signed off to an average of 2500m now.
- Average waiting time of 17 minutes for a broken-down vehicle to be spotted up by CCTV and the lane closed and a further 17 minutes for the vehicle to be recovered.
Following this information and lobbying from many road safety campaign groups including the AA and the NTDA, the government are working to increase safety, looking into reducing refuge area distances as well as investigating systems to instantly detect broken down vehicles. The government will not open this stretch of the M20, or any of the other stretches that are currently being worked on, until the stocktake has been completed. Highways England has commented on the matter saying:
“Any death on our roads is a tragedy and safety is always our number one priority."
“The Department for Transport is considering a range of evidence during their stocktake. We expect the results to be published shortly and to provide the most up to date assessment of the safety of smart motorways. We are committed to implementing any new recommendations as part of our ongoing work to make our roads even safer.”
Across other roads in the country, the Slow Down Move Over group (SDMO) plan to educate road users on how to approach temporary hazards on the road. Recent years have sadly seen numerous serious injuries and deaths of roadside workers such as recovery vehicle workers and tyre technicians. SDMO hope to spread their simple message to increase the safety of all road users.
Road safety has always been a very important subject for us. In fact, Checkpoint’s very foundations were formed around the vision to provide safety benefits to all road users. Today, we pride ourselves on our ability to supply safety solutions to all manner of sectors and businesses. Put safety into motion with the Checkpoint range of intelligent safety solutions.
*Defined as “an event that, while not causing harm, has the potential to cause injury or ill health” (Health and Safety Executive)