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Yorkshire Times
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Andy Harris
Motoring and Property Editor
2:00 PM 31st January 2020

Not So ‘Smart’ Motorways Under Review

The idea of the ‘smart’ motorway sounds good in principle. Use the hard shoulder as an extra running lane to ease congestion at peak times. Cameras monitor the sections and the speed limit can be adjusted to ensure that the traffic keeps flowing.

The problem arises in the event of a breakdown. Whereas before the hard shoulder offered a place of relative safety until help could arrive, now an enforced stop means you are stationary in a live lane of traffic.

I have a good friend who currently works for the Highways Agency and his patch includes areas of ‘smart’ motorways. His advice, which I wholly concur with, is that should you breakdown, get out of the vehicle as quickly and safely as possible, get behind the safety barrier and run! Don’t stay anywhere near the vehicle in case it should be hit from behind.

The reason is very simple. Until such time that you have been spotted by a camera operator, the lane will continue to run with fast flowing traffic. Even when you are spotted and a large red ‘X’ displayed on the overhead gantry, you are still dependent on drivers understanding the command and acting accordingly.

Sadly, there have been a number of deaths in the past
five years and unless something is done, there will undoubtedly be more.

I am pleased to be able to report that Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, yesterday announced that the rollout of new ‘smart’ motorways has been halted. There is also the possibility that they could be scrapped altogether.

It is now to be hoped that the government, in conjunction with Highways England, carry out a comprehensive review and that common sense will prevail. I feel sure that most drivers will accept a slightly longer journey time for the reassurance that should the worst happen, that there is a place of relative safety close at hand.

Drivers should also be aware that smart motorways are guarded by an army of speed cameras, most of which seem to work even if a lower speed limit is not being displayed. However, when a reduced limit flashes up, there is a short period of grace whilst the cameras calibrate. The advice therefore is to drop your speed straightaway to the lower limit.

With modern cars becoming increasingly reliable, it is all too easy not to carry out regular basic checks. I would suggest checking tyre depth and pressures, oil and coolant levels and make sure you have plenty of fuel before undertaking a long motorway journey. Regular servicing is a good idea too.

In my long and varied driving career, I have been unfortunate enough to breakdown on the hard shoulder a few times. The advice used to be to wait in your car, which was somewhat scary with traffic passing by inches from your door at 70mph.

Until such time that ‘smart’ motorways become a safer place to travel, my advice would be to keep your wits about you, make sure your mobile phone is close at hand and in the event of an issue, beat a hasty retreat from your vehicle and wait for professional help to arrive.