Following the pause on the roll out of ‘Smart’ Motorways, Government have now (15 April 2023)officially announced they are scrapping all new ‘smart’ motorways. TCAG are now looking into this further, since evidence shows that the proposed Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) would be a ‘Smart’ Motorway by stealth, if it were to go ahead. More to follow.
We have previously presented evidence to Government, and called for the LTC to be paused in keeping with the current pause on ‘Smart’ Motorways. But sadly so far they just seem to buy into National Highways propaganda that the proposed LTC would be an All Purpose Trunk Road, not a motorway.
You’d hope that since National Highways have failed to deliver what was originally signed off in regard to ‘Smart’ Motorways, government might scrutinise what NH are proposing in a little more detail, rather than simply trusting them, especially since people’s lives are at risk with these Killer Motorways. Thankfully there are a growing number of MPs who are voicing serious concerns about ‘Smart’ Motorways.
Latest evidence that the LTC would be a ‘Smart’ Motorway by stealth
Since the LTC Development Consent Order (DCO) documentation has been published we’ve uncovered more evidence to show that the proposed LTC would be a ‘Smart’ Motorway by stealth.
Would LTC use ‘Smart’ technology? YES
Paragraph 2.2.6 of Section 6.2 of the Transport Forecasting Package states
“In common with most A-roads, the A122 would operate with no hard shoulder but would feature a 1m hard strip on either side of the carriageway. It would also feature technology including stopped vehicle and incident detection, lane control, variable speed limits and electronic signage and signalling”
This shows LTC is designed to use ‘smart’ technology as used on ‘smart’ motorways.
Is the LTC being designed as a Motorway? YES
Paragraph 6.2.3 of Section 6.2 of the Transport Forecasting Package states
“Notwithstanding that the Project is to be designated as an all-purpose trunk road (APTR), the mainline is coded as a three-lane motorway (except for the northern section between the M25 and A13 where the southbound direction has two lanes)“
This shows LTC is designed as a 3 lane motorway.
Note the use of the word ‘coded’ which has definitions such as “converted into a code to convey a secret meaning” and “expressed in an indirect way”.
Would the proposed LTC be a ‘Smart’ Motorway by stealth? YES
Based on the information provided in National Highways official LTC documentation, highlighted above, it is quite clear to us that the proposed LTC would be a ‘Smart’ Motorway by stealth if it goes ahead.
‘Smart’ technology + motorway design = ‘Smart’ motorway
How does calling it an All Purpose Trunk Road make it any safer than what it would actually be, a ‘Smart’ Motorway by stealth? It doesn’t.
The proposed LTC would be a ‘Smart’ Motorway by stealth, and should therefore be paused in keeping with the Government’s pause on ‘Smart’ Motorways.
We’ve presented the latest evidence to Government again
Government ministers have changed since we last wrote regarding our concerns that the proposed LTC would be a ‘Smart’ Motorway by stealth, so we’ve written again to the relevant Ministers now, and other MPs, sharing the latest evidence and to again ask for the proposed LTC to be at very least paused, if not scrapped, in keeping with the pause on ‘Smart’ Motorways.
LTC - Smart Motorway by stealth - TCAG-MHRH-SLTC-230305
Richard Holden’s response
LTC-SmartMotorwaybyStealth - FinalResponseFinal response to MC, Chapter ID 424219.pdf.
This highlights another issue, National Highways reviewing and updating the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges, is them setting their own standards. ie marking their own homework. No comment at all on the evidence that shows that the proposed LTC would be a ‘smart’ motorway by stealth. Government not commenting on projects where the DCO is live is a response we get quite a bit now.
Find out more and support the great work of Smart Motorways Kill
The official advice from National Highways is to:
- Put your left indicators on
- Move into the left lane
- Enter the next emergency area, or hard shoulder
- Put your hazard lights on
- Get behind a safety barrier where there is one – keep well away from moving traffic
- Call National Highways on 0300 123 5000 then a breakdown provider for help
However, that is not always possible, so what should you do if you are in a live lane, can't get to an emergency refuge area, and/or there is no safe refuge possible behind a barrier, it's impossible to get out of the car, or for any other reason you feel your life is in danger?
- Stay in your vehicle with your seatbelts and hazard lights on
- Call 999 immediately or press the SOS button in your car.”
Too long. It can take around 17 minutes for a control room to identify a stopped vehicle, then a further 3 minutes to close the lane and reduce the speed limit. Then a further 17 minutes for breakdown assistance to arrive. That’s an average of 37 minutes of sitting in a live lane on the motorway.
In July 2021 National Highways boss Nick Harris had to correct evidence
he had given to the Transport Select Committee as part of the 'Smart' Motorway Inquiry, as he incorrectly advised them initially.
In Oct 2022 National Highways admitted
they were failing to achieve a 10-minute response time target for reaching stopped vehicles by the end of September.
The RAC's response (March 2023)
Does the RAC attend breakdowns on smart motorways?
"Yes, but as all lanes of most smart motorways are used for traffic, either all or some of the time, the RAC has to work closely with Highways England for safety reasons in order to attend members who break down on them.
Drivers who break down and successfully reach emergency SOS refuge areas, which are currently spaced up to 1.6 miles apart, can be attended without any initial involvement from Highways England.
However, for drivers who break down in a live running lane the RAC can only attend once Highways England has made the scene as safe as possible through the closure of lanes with the red X signs and the attendance of Highways England Traffic Officers or police officers to provide protection for both our patrols and customers."
Will there be an emergency refuge area to pull in to?
Can you get safely out of the car and over the crash barrier at the side of the road?
Is there a wall/fence blocking you from exiting to the left?
Is there a drop off to the side of the road that would stop you finding safety?
If you have children in the car which do you grab and get out of the car first if you need to leave the car in an emergency?
If you or someone travelling with you has a disability what would you do in an emergency?
If you are travelling with animals/pets what would you do in an emergency?
And don't be lulled in to a false sense of security that new cars don't breakdown. There are literally thousands of faults and recalls on new cars
When the 'smart' technology system is down staff in the control centre are unable to activate signs and signals supposed to warn drivers within 20 seconds of a vehicle breaking down in a live lane.
In March 2022 the system failed
on the M25, just days after it failed to stop a deadly crash.
In October 2022 the 'Smart' Motorway system (DYNAC) was down for over 7 hours
in what was referred to as a 'glitch'.
On 28th Jan 2023 the system was down again
overnight to reset the system, because of issues.
National Highways have paused the roll out of DYNAC in the South East and East
, because of the problems and concerns they are having with it elsewhere in the country.
Some of the system runs on very old communications cables
that are outdated.
'Smart' motorway technology is supposed to detect stopped vehicles.
National Highways specification states that false alerts may not constitute more than 15% of all alerts but performance ranged from 63.8% to 83.5% across the regions.
NH/HE admit that around 15% of vehicles were not identified by smart technology.
Some articles about the failing tech on 'Smart' Motorways (Dec 2022)
Low vehicles like sports cars are often not detected by the stop vehicle technology either.
There has been controversy over how reliable the system is, with questionable assessment and reporting
of it's performance.
In Feb 2023 National Highways said
they aim to have the stopped vehicle detection technology working efficiently by July 2023. Surely the time to ensure it was working effectively was before you start using it.
'Smart' Motorways rely on cctv to monitor the roads, but often these important cameras are not working, or are not pointing at the road.
More and more evidence has been surfacing about the dangers, and how even when the technology that is supposed to be in place on these so called Smart Motorways is there, it is not being monitored, and that’s if it’s even working.
Take a look here for examples
Remember staff in the control rooms are relying on these cameras to keep you safe
What happens when there's bad weather on a 'Smart' Motorway?
Well for starters many of the cameras often struggle in the dark and poor visibility caused by weather.
Take a look here for examples
Remember staff in the control rooms are relying on these cameras to keep you safe
Because of their very serious concerns about how dangerous 'Smart' Motorways are, staff in the control rooms have become whistleblowers and are revealing more and more seriously concerning information and detail about what is and isn't going on.
It has been reported that some of the frontline staff are terrified because they cannot do their jobs because of all the issues, and feel they cannot keep people safe.
Some are so stressed by what is happening that they are on sick leave due to the stress, others have resigned.
It has also been reported
that National Highways are struggling to employ staff for the control rooms.
Smart motorway networks are considered so dangerous AA breakdown crews are not allowed to stop on the roads to help stricken motorists.
The AA state : "We are not able to attend any vehicle that is in a live lane due the danger posed to our patrol. We always ask the customer to contact the Police to have their vehicle towed to a safe location before we are able to attend
Edmund King, President of the AA stated on Panorama that Smart Motorways are dangerous and are not fit for purpose.
The AA have advised drivers it is safer to drive with a burst tyre or smoking engine than to stop on a Smart Motorway. Even if there are emergency refuge areas it is questionable as to whether they are large enough and safe enough.
You can see AA President, Edmund King giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee
in March 2023, where he put it very well by asking whether:
if they were in a car on the M6 and their car developed a problem, would they rather being on a road where they've got a chance of pulling over to a hard shoulder
or if they'd rather be on a road where you might be a mile and a half from an emergency refuge area or an exit, or you can stop in a lane and you've got a chance that you might be spotted by stopped vehicle detection, you've got a chance that the Red X might come on, you've got a chance that people might abide by that Red X
Which would you prefer?
National Highways would say yes. However, that doesn’t explain that this is because there are more miles of ‘other’ roads, and that the risk used to be even less before they changed motorways to 'Smart' Motorways.
that the number of serious injury incidents rose after regular motorways were 'upgraded' to 'Smart' Motorways.
There is evidence that death rates are higher on Smart Motorways compared to hard shoulder roads.
Fire services are facing considerable delays on emergency callouts due to Smart Motorways. South Yorks Police and Crime Commissioner has called for Smart Motorways to be scrapped. National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales has said that even police don’t feel safe on Smart Motorways.
A Police and Crime Commissioner gave evidence
at the Transport Select Committee inquiry into 'Smart' Motorways to contest National Highways comments about the safety of 'Smart' Motorways.
It's not just how far a part the emergency refuge areas are on 'Smart' Motorways that is a concern, there are also concerns about the length of them.
It has been reported
that the length of some emergency refuge areas is shorter than advised by National Highways.
Another example of failure to deliver what is signed off/advised in regard to 'Smart' Motorways.
Who is responsible for ensuring the emergency refuge areas are long enough? Why are NH not checking the work of their contractors to ensure advice has been followed? As we've come to expect with NH, when they were questioned on the lengths they said they did not recognise the evidence.
In addition to all of that there have also been issues
with the surface, or more particularly the paint used to highlight the emergency refuge areas. The bright orange paint that was being used was a skidding hazard, especially when wet.
Oh and if you are ever unlucky enough to end up in an emergency refuge area on a 'Smart' Motorway you are evidently supposed to call an 11 digit phone number to request the left lane is closed to allow you to rejoin.But be warned, evidently there are no signs in the emergency refuge areas to advise you of this, or the number to call.
The RAC have carried out research on driver behaviour on 'Smart' Motorways and it has been reported
that half of drivers say they frequently or occasionally avoid using lane one on all lane running smart motorways.
Asked why they deliberately avoid driving in lane one, an overwhelming three-quarters (77%) of drivers say they are worried they might encounter a stationary, broken-down vehicle as there is no hard shoulder while 40% are fearful of being crashed into if they had to stop.
When a Red X shows above a lane on the road it means it is closed. It is illegal to pass under a Red X or enter the lane beyond a Red X, doing so can result in a fixed penalty of up to £100 and three points or, in some cases, more severe penalties or a court appearance.
Enforcement cameras can now be used
to automatically detect vehicles passing illegally under a Red X or entering the lane beyond a Red X.
There are a number of reasons why the Red X is used for safety. It's not only about trying to protect road users including those who have broken down, but also to try and provide access for emergency services to reach incidents.
Claims are often made about 'Smart' Motorways reducing congestion and speeding up travel times.
However, what happens when there are incidents on 'Smart' Motorways, and no hard shoulder to get vehicles more safely out of the way and keep traffic moving?
Yep, if there's and incident and no hard shoulder lanes are reduced and traffic slows and builds up.
A Freedom of Information request
With Hard shoulder: 124 incidents a day that cause delay and congestion
Without hard shoulder: 1757 incidents a day that cause delay and congestion
Plus, as we know more roads and more lanes, just leads to more traffic.
'Smart' Motorways have also resulted in an increase in carbon emissions
Analysis of 'Smart' Motorway between Milton Keynes and Luton
shows congestion actually got worse, the number of serious injury incidents rose, and the promised local economic benefits failed to materialise.
TV show 'Panorama' has produced programmes about 'Smart' Motorways, including one titled 'Britain's Killer Motorways
Sir Mike Penning MP, who was the Transport Minister who signed off on the expansion of the 'Smart' Motorway network has said that what he signed off on was not delivered, and that what was delivered was dangerous
We have learnt that the Office of Rail & Road
who monitor National Highways performance do not have a single member of staff who’s job is focused purely on road safety. In Nov 2021 National Highways appointed a prominent Smart Motorways advocate as their chief road safety adviser
In 2021 the Government held a public inquiry on Smart Motorways, which TCAG responded
to. In Nov 2021 the committee called on Government to pause 'smart' motorways
On the 12th January 2022 the UK Government announced that the roll out of Smart Motorways had been paused, following recommendations from the Transport Select Committee, whilst 5 years of safety data is collected and analysed.
In Jan 2022 it was reported
that the National Highways were being investigated for their handling of allegations of fraud and corruption by 'Smart' Motorway construction companies.
Concerns have been raised over Electric Vehicles
and Autonomous (self driving) vehicles raising risks on Smart Motorways.
Kier has been fined more than £4M
after its staff twice struck overhead powerlines while working on the M6 'smart' motorway, causing cables to land in the path of passing vehicles.
The amazing Claire Mercer of SmartMotorwaysKill
and others have been continuing to campaign against Smart Motorways. More evidence and reports have been presented to Government along with a legal challenge
over safety of Smart Motorways. SMK legal action also includes the aspect of disability discrimination
since Smart Motorways do not allow immobile people to reach a place of safety.
LTC Programme Director, Shaun Pidcock was previously in charge
of 'Smart' Motorways at NH.