Sometime soon a motorway near you could lose its hard shoulder for a large part of the day. Are smart motorways, with flexible hard shoulders, the answer to congestion?
The Highways Agency is introducing ‘smart’ motorways to help reduce congestion and improve journey times by temporarily opening up the hard shoulder to traffic during busy periods.
As someone who travels around 20,000 miles a year, and spends many hours stuck in motorway jams, I appreciate the goal to speed up traffic flow. And I can see the benefits in saving time for businesses. But, for anyone whose car breaks down, could it put them in greater danger?
Breaking down on the motorway
The statistics vary, with some claiming 1,500 deaths a year on hard shoulders, and others showing that overall (with the volume of traffic taken into account) motorways are safer than smaller roads. But all seem to agree that multiple vehicle pile ups are most common on motorways, and that accidents involving cars on the hard shoulder are more likely to be fatal.
All this leaves me in no doubt that the motorway hard shoulder is already a dangerous – and frightening – place to breakdown. Is removing it really a smart move?
Smart motorways and safety
It’s good to hear that smart motorways will be constantly monitored, so help should arrive quickly. However, many are still concerned about the safety implications, with GEM Motoring Assist’s David Williams saying:
‘Unfortunately, when the system is in operation, a vehicle breaking down no longer has an immediate traffic-free area in which to stop.
‘Ideally the driver will be able to reach one of the many refuge areas built into the system at frequent intervals. However, this is not always possible and if unlucky, a driver may find it necessary to stop in the middle of the traffic flow which is likely to be unnerving for even an experienced driver.’
Do you think smart motorways are smart thinking?