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‘Rush hour lane’ and fewer crashes – how smart motorways have been a success outside the UK



As expected the announcement has now been made that the current Smart Motorways programme has been effectively cancelled, we look at why, in central Europe and across the world, the latest development has ruffled few feathers and also why the UK failed where others have succeeded.


European countries will ignore Britain’s decision to cancel smart motorways and will continue to expand similar schemes, a leading expert has said.


i revealed last week that the Government will not be building any more smart motorways as a result of concerns around safety and cost, something which the government has confirmed over the weekend.


Smart motorways, which have no hard shoulder and rely on technology to detect broken-down vehicles and close affected lanes, have been blamed for a number of deaths since on British roads.


However, countries across Europe – including Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands – continue to roll out motorways with features that are much the same as in Britain, including the ability to reduce speed limits and turn the hard shoulder into an extra lane.


The policy is generally referred to as “hard shoulder running” and continues to be used with little of the debate experienced in the UK.


“Certainly any controversy hasn’t been on the same level,” Steve Phillips, secretary general of the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR), said.


While there have been traffic collisions on hard shoulders being used as an extra lane, Mr Phillips, who is British but now lives in Brussels, says he is not aware of any fatalities that have become a focal point for an opposition campaign.


He suggested this could be in part due to a difference in “culture” around road accidents and use of the hard shoulder between Britain and continental Europe.


“Living in Belgium I’ve witnessed a difference in behaviour when you have an accident on the motorway compared to the UK,” he added.


“Here people tend to stay in the same spot [rather than moving to the hard shoulder]. The exchange of information between drivers will take place in the running lane. In Germany, they are quite strict on people stopping on the hard shoulder, you don’t get people there when they’ve run out of petrol.”


“There’s a different expectation of what the hard shoulder is for.”


Mr Phillips pointed out that European countries are also looking at a new policy around emergency vehicles which would mean drivers are advised to move into the hard shoulder and allow them to pass through lanes 2 and 3 on the motorway.


“Emergency services don’t use the hard shoulder because it will get blocked,” he added.

One of the biggest smart motorway schemes is in the Netherlands where it is referred to as the “rush hour lane” and is managed by Rijkswaterstaat – the ministry of infrastructure and water.

If more than 1,350 cars pass in each lane every hour, the rush hour lane will open.


And in Germany, a new smart system which can turn the hard shoulder into an extra lane has just been installed on the A8 autobahn – one of the key east-west road links in Europe – between Karlsruhe and Karlsbad.


Around 110,000 vehicles pass through the A8 each day but it has suffered with congestion often caused by slow-moving trucks.


Germany’s Die Autobahn agency signed off on instalment of the new smart technology which will be managed using camera technology from a control centre in Stuttgart.


Before the hard shoulder lane becomes a live lane, the traffic control centre will check that no obstacles are blocking the lane.


Similar smart motorway features are becoming more popular in the US.


A report from the US Department of Transport in 2016 revealed there are more than 30 “shoulder use installations” in operation across the country covering 14 states.


While the operation is varied in different states, the most frequent approach is the use of freeway shoulders by transit vehicles during peak period times of the day.


Studies in Colorado and Virginia have suggested their rollout has either made little difference to the number of crashes or reduced them slightly.


However, the Department for Transport acknowledged crashes related to “erratic driver behaviour, driver confusion, or suboptimal geometry” may increase and more research is necessary.

CEDR says studies in Europe suggest that the overall impact on safety of smart motorway features is “positive” when operated “in an appropriate way”.


Mr Phillips says he has no doubt they will continue to be rolled out in Europe due to concerns about both capacity on the road network and the environment.


“Increasingly we are seeing countries where they are not allowed to increase the width of their motorways [because of concerns about environmental damage caused by road traffic], but they need to increase capacity because the local roads are snarled up,” he said.


“So it’s the only way forward, we can’t go backwards. That’s going to become more and more of a challenge across Europe.”


Mr Phillips said while the controversy surrounding smart motorways in Britain has been noticed in Europe, he does not believe it will lead to a rethink anywhere else.


He noted that Britain has one of the lowest rates of road traffic accidents in the world and perhaps that is why deaths linked to smart motorways have been so prominent.


“I think everyone [in Europe] is watching with interest,” he said, adding: “But I think generally it plays into a stereotype that the British are far too safety conscious.


“In the UK there is much more emphasis on health and safety on the smallest thing… that on the continent they just wouldn’t care about.

“It’s a stereotype but it’s real.”


Author: Steve Robson

Article in part appeared first: https://inews.co.uk/news/brits-too-safety-conscious-europe-expanding-smart-motorways-2263540

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