Smart motorways were established in the United Kingdom 10 years ago in order to alleviate congestion and improve road conditions.
The technology applied includes the utilization of congestion management techniques. The vehicles' flow is controlled by variable speed limits while the hard shoulder, the emergency stopping lane at the edge of a road, is used by motorists in critical conditions.
However, their performance is considered inadequate since the risks of an accident remain high. "What the evidence shows is that, in most ways, smart motorways are as safe as, or safer than, the conventional ones. But not in every way,” Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, stated.
In a section of M25, a major road that stretches around the area of Greater London, since smart technology was implemented in 2014, the number of near miss accidents has increased by 20 times.
Moreover, according to motoring organizations, some of the 38 casualties recorded in the past 5-year period in smart roads could have been prevented.
United Kingdom government will implement a new scheme that consists of 18 measures aiming at exploiting smart technology but also correcting the issues that have been identified. According to Shapps, a major issue that makes the existing smart roadways unsafe is the partial utilization of hard shoulders. Therefore, the new proposal suggests transforming it into a normal lane and establish refuge rooms by 2025.
Other measures suggest:
- Reduce the distance between emergency spots to a maximum of 1,6 kilometers and to 1,2 kilometers where it's possible.
- Color the emergency areas so that they can be easily identified by motorists.
- Dedicate a $6.14 million fund to raise awareness of people concerning the safety issues in roadways.
- Create an automatic system to track and punish motorists that ignore the closure signs in lanes.
- Install more traffic signs.
- Inform people about the eCall SOS button that new cars include and makes direct assistance feasible.
The new measures will require a significant amount of funding, however, their existence is important in order to cope with increased congestion observed during the past years (23% rise in the UK in 20 years). “They (smart roads) save motorists thousands of hours sitting in jams. They reduce the disruption and environmental destruction which would otherwise be needed to widen our busiest roads,” Shapps, stated.