Emily Hyde of International Transport Specialists JJX Logistics Ltd explains that many of the company's highly trained drivers have raised concerns regarding the safety of smart motorways.
Our drivers are not alone in taking issue with the smart motorway concept, as removal of the hard-shoulder on sections of our arterials and narrowing of lanes to get more vehicles on the roadway poses serious safety concerns.
Drivers of commercial vehicles, as well as the general road-user, have to concentrate harder when using sections that are deemed ‘smart’. There is little margin for error, because:
- removal of hard shoulders, with only infrequent emergency stopping points, means drivers must be careful to check for any stationary / stranded vehicle ahead, blocking a lane.
- the narrowed lanes mean even a ‘tap’ by a vehicle in an adjacent lane, could cause serious a serious accident, resulting in collision and road blockage.
The concerns regarding smart motorways have been raised by motoring groups, transport trade associations, and the general public. The BBC reported these concerns for a special edition of their Panorama programme, which found 38 people have been killed on smart motorways in the last five years.
The reports prompted a government review, which conceded there were issues and laid out an action plan for improvements. However, the central programme for all lane running motorways continues and for many, so do the safety concerns.
At JJX Logistics, we experienced a ‘near-miss’ ourselves on 13 May 2020, on a section of Cheshire’s M6 that is a designated smart motorway.(Before and after picture below).
The local press and the police reported the incident, which caused part of the M6 in Cheshire to be closed, with congestion backed up for four miles as a result.
Our driver, Julie, was carrying Dangerous Goods under ADR regulations, which could have resulted in a far more serious incident than if she were carrying ambient / non-hazardous goods.
Julie, a well-trained professional, unfortunately broke down and had no power to the vehicle to safely reach the services.
She pulled over in the van as far as physically possible on this smart-motorway, with her hazard lights flashing. As there is no hard shoulder on smart motorways this meant she was stuck, partially in a live lane.
Moments after safely exiting the vehicles and positioning herself out of harm's way, an articulated lorry ploughed into our vehicle pushing it up the embankment and ripping the back half of the van clean off, including the goods on board. If it wasn’t for Julie’s actions this incident could have been tragic.
Thankfully, no one was hurt and the chemicals remained contained within their packaging.
The Cheshire Motorway Police and Emergency services acted robustly and two lanes were closed for several hours as order was restored.
At JJX Logistics we term this incident as a 'near miss', the type of thing that causes sleepless nights for managing director John Donovan.
He echoes the sentiments of AA President Edmund King who has previously stated smart motorways were 'a scandal, dangerous and not fit for purpose'. The AA were more conciliatory after the Government's action plan but for many it did not go far enough.
While action is now being taken to improve safety on some routes (and stopped vehicle detection is being rolled out across the smart motorway network - though it has not been perfected yet), some smart motorways may effectively operate unchanged. Is this not a scandal?
Mr Donovan said: 'This incident happened in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, surely with the reduced traffic on the roads a hard shoulder should have been available.'