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Nearly 40 people have been killed on them since they were launched in 2014 and problems with the technology that is supposed to alert drivers when a lane ahead is blocked doesn’t always work in time to avoid disaster.
These problems and others have finally been flagged by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in a safety report.
Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) technology is radar-based technology that is on every all lane running (ALR) smart motorway where the hard shoulder has been permanently converted to a live traffic lane.
Technology in place
The regulator reports that National Highways had the technology in place on every existing ALR smart motorway by the end of September, six months ahead of its original March 2023 deadline.
However, the ORR report says the actual performance of stopped vehicle detection is falling short of the requirements the company set itself.
One issue is false detection rates on ALR smart motorways across all National Highways’ regions, which are substantially above the required maximum.
The company’s targets state that false alerts may not constitute more than 15% of all alerts, but performance ranged from 63.8% to 83.5%
National Highways says it is seeking rapid improvements to the SVD technology to achieve the required performance levels by the end of June 2023.
ORR says it will be scrutinising the company’s progress and will take further action should it not appear to be on track to achieve the required improvements.
Safe as older roads
ORR chief executive, John Larkinson, said: “Our previous work on smart motorway data has shown that these roads are as safe as the motorways they replaced but the number of live lane breakdowns are h
“Having the SVD radar detection equipment in place sooner than planned has helped to reduce the duration of these breakdowns more quickly but it’s not working as well as it should.
“While it is still too early to have robust data, it’s clear National Highways needs to urgently improve its performance in this area.”
Edmund King, AA president, said the fact that the radar system is n
ot working effectively is a major concern for drivers.
He said: “For ‘smart’ motorways to be truly smart and safe then the technology behind them must be fully effective. If there are doubts about the technology, then the motorways are not smart and we should revert to tried and tested methods.
“The radar system should be identifying 80% of stopped vehicles in a live lane and operators checking the alarms within 20 seconds. Neither of these targets have been met and it is simply unacceptable.
“As a result, vulnerable drivers have been left stranded in the most dangerous of places – the live lane of a motorway.
“National Highways needs to urgently rectify the situation, but until suc
h time we call on the Transport Secretary to run a pilot scheme which re-instates the inside lane as a hard-shoulder with a Red ‘X’ and runs a national lane discipline campaign – aimed at the ‘middle lane hogs’ – in conjunction with the police, to get better use out of the capacity of the motorway and to make the network safer. At the same time, there needs to be a rapid retrofit of emergency laybys, so no-one is too far away from a place of safety.”
This is the first annual assessment from the ORR of safety performance on the strategic road network (SRN) in England.
Courtesy of CVDriver