Updated: Jul 28
Safer Highways Chief Executive cautiously welcomed the increase in the speed limits through roadworks, saying it must be followed with greater enforcement on law breakers.
Safer Highways CEO, Kevin Robinson, has cautiously welcomed the news that Highways England is to increase the speed limit to 60mph through roadworks where feasible, however at the same time tempered it with a note of caution that there needs to be a greater crackdown on those who continually break the law in order to protect our roadworkers.
The 60mph through roadworks trial looked at different ‘scenarios’ within roadworks on England’s strategic road network of motorways and major A roads, and was funded through Highways England’s ring-fenced innovation designated fund.
Speaking about the announcement, Highways England Chief Executive Jim O’Sullivan said,
“All of our research shows that road users benefit from 60mph limits in roadworks. They have shorter journey times and feel safe.
“Road users understand that roadworks are necessary, but they are frustrated by them. So testing 60mph has been about challenging the norm while ensuring the safety of our people working out there and those using our roads.
“We have a huge programme of work planned, so being able to use 60mph where safe will continue to improve everybody’s experience of our roads.”
The announcement, which came from the government-owned company on the 26th July was made as a result of extensive trials on sites including the M1 between junctions 13 to 16 in Northamptonshire, the M6 between junctions 13 to 15 in Staffordshire, and on the M4 between junctions 3 to 12 near Reading, and came in the same week that the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) announced that during RIS 1 Highways England still has some way to go to meet its Key Performance Indicators around safety.
However, despite acknowledging that increasing the speed limit to 60mph would save a total of almost 3,780 hours journey time each day and thus reduced the risk of motorists becoming frustrated and abusing our roadworkers, Mr Robinson also questioned whether the increase placed customer satisfaction over roadworker safety.
He said, “Traffic management incursions occur across the Highways England network with alarming regularity. Between 2015 and 2020, the first Road Investment Strategy period, there were 8,676 incursions recorded.
“Nearly 50%, 3,581 of these, were reported as road users driving into roadworks trying to seek a “personal benefit”, such as avoiding a diversion route.
“It is feasible to assume that every minute of every day, we have a member of one of our member company’s teams sitting in an IPV (Impact Protection Vehicle), in a live lane, protecting our roadworkers – all signed off by us as part of a formal and agreed Safe System of Work. Yet, statistics indicate an IPV is struck on average every 10 days across the Strategic Road Network.
“Now imagine if that IPV were to be struck by a vehicle travelling at 10mph faster, what is already a devastating scene could be catastrophic.”
Only last week, the Supply Chain Safety Leadership Group (SCSLG) published a new common intent guidance document around incursions and IPV strikes and in the last year research undertaken by Amey showed that 59% of road users said their safety consciousness was not as high as it should be when negotiating roadworks, while 74% admitted to exceeding speed limits set to protect the roadworkers running those sites-14% admitted to not paying attention to roadwork's.".
However, when surveyed, 87% of drivers acknowledged that being a roadworker in the UK is a dangerous occupation.
Opposing perceptions which are an extreme concern.
However, despite a what appears to be, on the surface, mounting evidence against Highways England’s move, Mr Robinson believes there may be a solution,
He continued, “In the last 12 months we have seen an investigation into the safety of smart motorways, and surely Highways England have learned some lessons from this.
“The one which stands out the most for me is the distinct lack of enforcement around those who broke the law and drove through a “Red X’ for personal benefit despite the risk to others.
“In that instance, despite a change in the law, Highways England’s approach was to simply write a warning letter – which largely fell on deaf ears.
“This time around if they are truly to achieve the right balance between customer satisfaction, and ensuring the safety of those we put to work to ensure they go Home Safe and Well, then we must be tougher on offenders.
“Technology exists such as Carnell’s SafetyCam and alongside specification of works to ensure they are carried out behind temporary barriers rather than cones, alongside greater enforcement I believe that we could increase the speed limit and, to an acceptable level in roadworks, and ensure greater safety than we already have.
However, this is not something we can simply take lightly or approach half-heartedly.”