Smart motorways: Transport Committee calls for emergency corridor manoeuvre

Transport committee also wants more emergency refuge areas retrofitted and for stopped vehicle detection technology to be evaluated

The Transport Committee has completed its report on smart motorways, calling for a number of measures to improve safety.

The select committee wants the emergency corridor manoeuvre to be added to the Highway Code. This would require drivers in standstill motorway congestion to pull to the side of the road, leaving a gap for emergency service vehicles to pass through. Such a manoeuvre is already a legal requirement in some countries, but not the UK.

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National Highways has already committed to ensuring all new stretches of all-lane-running ‘smart’ motorways, which have no hard shoulder, are fitted with emergency refuge areas (ERAs) no more than one mile apart at any point and 0.75 miles apart wherever possible. The Transport Committee has now called for these same measures to be taken on the existing smart motorway network, with ERAs retrofitted at these same intervals.

The committee also argues that one lane of all-lane-running motorways should revert to being a hard shoulder between 7pm and 7am to mitigate the impact of live-lane collisions at night.

The Office for Rail and Road should be commissioned to conduct an independent evaluation of the effectiveness and operation of the stopped-vehicle technology being rolled out across the network, the committee adds.

The committee also wants to see the Office for Rail and Road evaluate the Department for Transport and National Highways’ progress on smart motorways from 2022, particularly regarding response times for live-lane breakdowns and driver education.

Commenting on the report, AA president Edmund King said: “This is a pragmatic report, which reflects many of the actions we had been calling for. We have campaigned consistently for ERAs at least every three quarters of a mile and have been pushing for a rapid retrofit programme. The committee also takes up our proposal for all-lane-running schemes to revert to the hard-shoulder between 7pm and 7am to avoid confusion and to offer a refuge to counter live lane collisions that happen at night.

“We also called for better evaluation of the stopped-vehicle-detection technology and questioned why it hadn’t been fitted before schemes opened. The report reflects our view that controlled motorways with a hard shoulder are the safest option and that the business case for these should be examined.

“The AA called for a new Highway Code rule in 2017 to create an emergency corridor in stationary traffic to allow emergency services access to incidents on motorways where there is no continuous hard shoulder. We are pleased that the committee has endorsed that call and we are already working with National Highways on this matter.

“We hope that the Government will respond quickly to these recommendations so that action can be taken to improve the safety of smart motorways and the public’s perception of these roads.”

Smart motorways background

The DfT previously conducted an ‘evidence stocktake’ into smart motorways, which resulted in dynamic smart motorways – where the outer lane can switch between being a hard shoulder and a live running lane – being abolished.

All-lane running smart motorways, which do not have a hard shoulder, were kept with a commitment to place emergency refuge areas three-quarters of a mile apart where possible, and no more than one mile apart on any new stretches of smart motorway.

Highways England has also committed to installing SVD technology on all stretches of smart motorway. At present, drivers whose cars break down in a live lane without SVD have to wait for a CCTV operator to spot them before the lane is closed.

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