17 July 2012.
For immediate release.

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Press Release

Safety at Risk in New Cost-Cutting Motorway Schemes
The Government's desire to extract the maximum capacity from the motorway network at the lowest possible cost could jeopardise road safety, believes the ABD.
Until now, 'managed motorway' schemes have only allowed the hard shoulder to be used as a running lane at times of peak traffic flow, when variable speed limits apply and there are frequent refuge areas available for emergency use. From now on, however, starting with a managed motorway scheme on part of the M1 in South Yorkshire, the hard shoulder will be in use at all times, often with the speed limit at 70mph, and the distance between refuge areas will be four times greater (2,000m instead of 500m). The outside (fourth) lane will also be reduced in width to 3.2m from the normal 3.65m .

The ABD was concerned about the safety aspects of managed motorways when they were first proposed in 2004, and also that they would be used as a cheap alternative to widening or new-build schemes. The ABD responded to the consultation carried out at that time and we were invited to discuss our concerns with the consultants working on the pilot M42 scheme. 1

Malcolm Heymer, the ABD's traffic management adviser, and one of those who met the Highways Agency's consultants, comments:
“The consultants explained at length how the safety issues were going to be addressed. I was impressed with the sincerity of their determination to produce a safe and effective scheme. Subsequent experience shows that, whilst there are other issues with the usefulness and application of variable limits, the current schemes work reasonably well with regard to safety. These new proposals, however, show that we were right to be concerned that managed motorways were the thin end of a make-do-and-mend wedge, and now it seems even safety is to be compromised to reduce costs further.”
The ABD is not alone in its fears about the safety of future managed motorway schemes. Local authorities and emergency services in South Yorkshire have voiced their concerns about the M1 scheme, with the emergency services commissioning an independent review of the plans. 2

ABD chairman Brian Gregory concludes,
“These cost-cutting proposals are a step too far and we call on the House of Commons Transport Committee to hold an inquiry into their safety as a matter of urgency. With drivers paying five times as much in taxes as is spent on the road network, we deserve better.”

1. Extract from an article in the ABD's magazine On The Road in 2005:

While acknowledging that three lanes plus a hard shoulder are inherently preferable to four traffic lanes, the consultants described in detail the measures that have been taken to compensate.

Emergency refuge areas (ERAs) will be constructed at 500 metre intervals, so it should be rare for a vehicle to suffer a failure so catastrophic that it cannot limp or coast to the next one. There will be sensors in all lanes at 100-metre intervals and sensors in the ERAs, so operators in the control centre will be alerted immediately to a vehicle entering an ERA or to any breakdown in traffic flow in a running lane. Comprehensive coverage by high-resolution CCTV cameras, coupled with upgraded street lighting, will ensure that operators are able to see exactly what is going on at any point throughout the length of the pilot scheme at all times.

When a driver has stopped in an ERA and needs to rejoin the motorway while the hard shoulder is being used as a traffic lane, the official advice will be to contact the control centre (using the emergency telephone provided) so that the operator can temporarily stop traffic on the hard shoulder. There will be no legal requirement on drivers to do this, however, so there will be nothing to stop them trying to rejoin the traffic stream unaided. This could be potentially hazardous, although speeds will be constrained by the variable speed limits to no more than 50mph when the hard shoulder is in use. Nevertheless, this is one aspect of the scheme's operation that will be watched very closely by the project team.

Another concern is access for the emergency services in the case of a serious incident blocking the carriageway, when the hard shoulder is in use. The consultants believe that such incidents are likely to be very rare under the controlled conditions that will exist during hard shoulder running. If one did occur, the control centre operator would be able to shut one or more lanes on the opposite carriageway, allowing a rapid response team to reach the incident and assess it. If necessary, once the blocked carriageway was secured, other emergency vehicles could then reach the incident by travelling in the reverse direction from the next junction downstream.

The consultants confirmed that vehicles using the hard shoulder will not be allowed to travel straight ahead through junctions - devising a system of road markings to allow this, while not being confusing during normal operation, would be extremely difficult. Instead, signs above the hard shoulder will indicate that the lane is for vehicles exiting at the next junction only. Of course, some drivers may be tempted to overtake a slow-moving queue on the hard shoulder and cut across to the next exit, knowing that none of the vehicles to their left will be going straight ahead. This is another aspect of behaviour that the project team will be watching.

2. Article from Local Transport Today, 6 July 2012:

Police voice safety fears about HA's new managed motorways.

The emergency services and local authorities in South Yorkshire have voiced concern about the safety implications of the Highways Agency's new design of managed motorways, which will be pioneered on the M1 through the conurbation. The new design will see the hard shoulder used as a permanent running lane as the Agency responds to ministers' requests to squeeze more capacity out of the motorway network without major investment in widening projects. Councillors on South Yorkshire's Integrated Transport Authority heard this week that the emergency services are to commission an independent review of the plans because of their safety concerns.

The HA's new design, known as managed motorway - all lane running (MM-ALR), will be implemented in all future managed motorway schemes from the end of this year. Their first application is due to be on the M1 between 32 and 35A, with works planned to start in Q4 2012/13.

On existing sections of managed motorway, the hard shoulder is only opened up as a running lane during times of high traffic volumes. At such times the mandatory speed limit is reduced, with lower limits communicated to motorists via signs on overhead gantries. The new generation of managed motorways will see the hard shoulder open as a traffic lane 24 hours a day. The design will also see the HA reduce the number of overhead gantries "in order to improve value for money". Variable message signs and junction direction signs will typically be mounted on the verge. The HA is procuring new speed cameras that can cover all lanes from the verge.

South Yorkshire's Local Transport Plan programme director, Frances Adams, told councillors this week that the emergency services had expressed "a number of concerns regarding the safety of their road traffic officers". "The police are anticipating that these stretches of motorway will be closed more frequently to enable them to safely deal with incidents and emergencies," she said. She added: "The police have [also] raised issues such as dealing with stationary vehicles, chasing and stopping suspect vehicles and dealing with general emergencies and other incidents that occur on this very busy stretch of motorway."

Adams criticised the HA's objective that the new design should be no worse in safety terms than the current road layout. "It has to be noted that, under this objective, virtually all of the M1 running through South Yorkshire will have no new targets for improved safety outcomes. Officers question whether this objective is ambitious enough for an improvement scheme." She cited particular concerns about the emergency refuge areas (ERAs), which will be located 2km apart - much longer spacings than on existing managed motorways.

The proposed maximum length of ERAs is only 100 metres, with traffic re-entering a running lane with a 70mph speed limit. In addition, she said the ERAs were only separated by a white line from the main carriageway. "It is worth noting that the HA accepted the findings of a 2006 study Too close for comfort [by the AA Motoring Trust] that these laybys are intrinsically unsafe. One of the conclusions was that laybys should be clearly and physically segregated from the flow of traffic," said Adams.

"The fire service is also concerned that some motorists will pull onto the grass verges when facing difficulties, thereby increasing the potential for grass fires with the resulting smoke and confusion causing driver issues and distractions," she said.

The HA's advice note on MM-ALR suggested that the width of lane 4 (the outside lane) on the motorway would be 3.2 metres. "The average current width of lane 4 within the motorway network is significantly wider than 3.2 metres and under the current standards when lanes are narrowed, for road works for example, then reduced speed limits are imposed and enforced," she said.

Speaking about the new design of managed motorways this week, an HA spokeswoman told LTT: "We are confident these changes will provide the additional capacity required, without compromising overall safety. We have met with South Yorkshire Police on a number of occasions, most recently on 3 July. We are continuing to work collaboratively with the Chief Superintendent who represents the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership to share and demonstrate the evidence and analysis that lies behind the design specification."
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