Safety evaluations of recently completed smart motorways highlight a “concerning” rise in serious collisions after upgrade work was finished, according to motorists’ body the RAC.
Highways England recently published post opening project evaluation (Pope) reports for eight smart motorway schemes, following the stock take of smart motorway safety in March.
In half of the cases, a rise in serious collisions was recorded in the first year after a motorway was upgraded. Highways England defines a serious collision as “one in which at least one person is seriously injured but no person (other than a confirmed suicide) is killed”.
But the number of fatal collisions fell on six of the eight motorways and remained at zero on one. There was also a drop in the number of slight collisions on six of the schemes. RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes told NCE that the increase in serious collisions was “concerning”.
“It’s very concerning these Pope reports have identified an increase in serious collisions,” he said. “The findings won’t be a surprise to the majority of drivers who believe the removal of the hard shoulder compromises safety in the event of a breakdown.”
On the M25 Junctions 5 to 7 scheme, serious collisions rose from an annual average of five in the three years before the upgrade, to nine in the year after it had been converted into an all-lane running (ALR) smart motorway. But fatal collisions fell from an average of 0.7 to zero, while slight collisions also fell from 68 to 55.
ALR motorways have no hard shoulder and feature emergency refuge areas (ERAs). The government’s stock take of smart motorway safety recommended an increase in the number of ERAs for existing and future all-lane running motorways.
The Pope report for the M1 Junctions 39 to 42 scheme – another ALR motorway – also showed a rise in serious collisions, post-upgrade. Serious collisions rose from an annual average of 1.3 in the three years before the upgrade, compared with five in the year after conversion. There was a slight increase in average annual slight collisions on M1 scheme from 14.3 to 15, but fatal collisions remained at zero. On the M6 Junctions 10a to 13 scheme, serious collisions rose from an average of one in the three pre-upgrade years to six in the year after it became a smart motorway.
On the M25 junctions 23 to 27 scheme, fatal collisions rose from an annual average of 1.3 to two, but serious and slight collisions fell. The figures relating to ALR schemes largely support the findings of government stock take which concluded that fatal casualty rates on these schemes are lower, while injury rates are slightly higher.
The government stock take said that motorways with dynamic hard shoulders (DHS) were considered to be the most problematic. DHS schemes sometimes use hard shoulders as live running lanes. Electronic signs guide drivers into them when they are safe to use for live running and signpost their closure when traffic levels are lower.
Emergency refuge areas are installed as on ALR motorways. The stock take said DHS schemes were “confusing” and recommended that they be scrapped, with existing schemes converted into all-lane running motorways.
The Pope reports for the eight schemes show little difference in the number of accidents on two specific DHS schemes. On the M1 junctions 10 to 13 scheme there was a rise in serious collisions from an annual average of 2.4 in the three years before conversion to 4.3 the year after.
Meanwhile, on the M6 junctions 5 to 8 scheme, slight collisions increased to 56 from an annual average of 45.7 in the three years before the upgrade. Fatal collisions did, however, fall from 0.3 to zero, while serious collisions remained at three. This scheme is a controlled motorway between junctions 7 and 8, ALR for the M5/M6 link and DHS between Junctions 5 and 7.
For two schemes – the M6 junctions 8 to 10a and the M4 junctions 19 to 20/ M5 Junctions 15 to 17 – the number of collisions fell across the board.
A Highways England spokesperson said: “The Pope findings were part of the considerable amount of evidence considered as part of the stock take. While one accident is one too many on any motorway, the stock take concluded that smart motorways in most ways are as safe as, or safer than, conventional motorways they replace.
“We are taking forward the measures set out in the stock take and are determined to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible.”
Part B of the government stock take sets out Highways England’s smart motorways action plan. This includes:
Scrapping “confusing” DHS motorways
Increasing the number of ERAs with the distance between them reduced
Accelerating installation of stopped vehicle detection equipment
Increasing traffic officer patrols l Making ERAs more visible to motorists
A commitment to spend £5M on improving public information about and awareness of smart motorways.
At the time of the report, Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: “Every death in any road accident is tragic and we are determined to do all we can to make our roads as safe as possible.
“We will be taking forward the measures the secretary of state for transport has set out and we will be improving further our information to drivers to help them be safer on all of our roads, including smart motorways.”
Lyes highlighted the importance of this. “As the government has now committed to improving the safety of smart motorways, it’s important this happens as soon as possible,” he said. “This involves a targeted increase in the number of ERAs and installing stopped vehicle detection technology, both of which we hope will make a vital difference to those who are unfortunate enough to break down while using one of these stretches.”
Author: CATHERINE KENNEDY
Disclaimer: This article was not originally written by a member of the Safer Highways team.