Many drivers at International Transport Specialists JJX Logistics Ltd have raised concerns regarding the ‘so-called’ Smart Motorway on safety grounds. They are not alone, as removal of the hard-shoulder on sections of our arterials, and narrowing of lanes to get more vehicles on the roadway poses concerns.
Drivers of commercial vehicles, as well as the general road-user, have to concentrate harder when using sections that are deemed ‘smart’.
There is little margin for error, because –
[a] removal of hard shoulders, with only infrequent emergency stopping points means drivers must be careful to check for any stationary / stranded vehicle ahead, blocking a lane.
[b] the narrowed lanes mean even a ‘tap’ by a vehicle in an adjacent lane, could cause serious a serious accident, resulting in collision and road blockage.
The concerns regarding Smart Motorways has been raised by motoring groups, transport trade associations, and the general public. In January 2020 the BBC reported these concerns for a special edition of their Panorama programme.
Thirty-eight people have been killed on smart motorways in the last five years, the government has told BBC Panorama.
It is the first time that the total number of deaths has been reported.
Smart motorways have been criticised because they do not have a hard shoulder and drivers who break down can be trapped in the speeding traffic.
The network is facing an overhaul with the results of a government review due to be announced shortly.
A Freedom of Information (FoI) request sent by Panorama to Highways England revealed that on one section of the M25, outside London, the number of near misses had risen 20-fold since the hard shoulder was removed in April 2014.
In the five years before the road was converted into a smart motorway, there were just 72 near misses. In the five years after, there were 1,485.
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At JJX Logistics, we experienced a ‘near-miss’ ourselves on May 13th 2020, on a section of Cheshire’s M6, that is a designated Smart Motorway.
The press and the police reported the incident –
Part of the M6 in Cheshire closed following a collision involving two vehicles on Wednesday afternoon (May 13) between J17 Sandbach and J16 Stoke-on-Trent.
Three lanes were closed on the M6 southbound just before Sandbach Services.
There was congestion for four miles due to the accident.
Lanes one, two and three (of four) were closed.
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Our Driver Julie, was carrying Dangerous Goods under ADR regulations, which could have resulted in a far more serious incident than if she were carrying ambient / non-hazardous goods.
Julie, a well-trained professional, unfortunately, broke down and had no power to the vehicle to safely reach the services. She pulled over in the van as far as physically possible on this smart-motorway h hazard lights flashing. As there is no hard shoulder on smart motorways this meant she was stuck, partially in a live lane. Moments after safely exiting the vehicles and positioning herself out of harms way, an articulated lorry ploughed into our vehicle pushing it up the embankment and ripping the back half of the van clean off, including the goods on board. If it wasn’t for Julie’s actions this incident could have been tragic.
Thankfully, no one was hurt and the chemicals remained contained within their packaging.
The Cheshire Motorway Police and Emergency services acted robustly, as two lanes were closed for several hours as order was restored.
At JJX Logistics we term this incident as a “near-miss”, one that causes sleepless nights for Managing Director John Donovan. He echoes the sentiments of AA President Edmund King who stated “I certainly believe smart motorways are a scandal because, as we’ve been saying from the outset, they are dangerous, they’re not fit for purpose,” on BBC Panorama
John goes on to discuss how that “This incident happened in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, surely with the reduced traffic on the roads a hard shoulder should have been available.”
We are now working with Highways England to provide views and thoughts on smart motorways. We will give them information from first-hand experience and also our opinions on what can be done to help improve them. It’s not something that will change overnight. However, working with Highways England, educating ourselves and others about smart motorways will all help to make the roads a safer place.
Let us know your views by emailing email@example.com