A journey back from an event yesterday took me on over 100 miles of motorway. Part of this, the M6 from junction 2 to 4, is being upgraded to a ‘smart motorway’ in keeping with the stretch further up through Birmingham.
I’m really not a fan of smart motorways, yet my journey covered two large stretches of the M1 and M25 that are already converted. And it was in these sections that I saw the problems of the idea first hand.
For those unfamiliar, smart motorways do away with the hard shoulder completely, converting the road to ‘all lane running’. Should a breakdown occur, the lane the vehicle is in will be closed.
Only this means that by closing a lane, traffic will start to back up, creating more delays. In addition, roadside workers are at risk, should a vehicle ignore the closed lane, and career into the stationary vehicle.
Then also, should the vehicle suffer an electrical failure at night, with no lighting, what would happen when a lorry comes across the stranded motor at 60mph? I’m sorry to say this actually occurred during the roadworks to convert junctions 5 to 6 on the M25, resulting in a driver losing their life.
While there is need for additional capacity on the motorways, the sections where the hard shoulder is opened only during congestion is acceptable. There is still a lane that drivers can pull over into most times of the day if they need to. At present, laybys are too few and far between. Suffer a blow out, you won’t make the mile or more to the next opportunity to pull in.
Yesterday, three separate vehicles were stranded, two being worked on by the highways authorities with traffic queuing around. The third was more dangerous, a van which had just stopped, prior to any help coming. Luckily drivers were alert, flashing hazard lights and slowing. But I dread to think if someone hadn’t been vigilant…
The argument for the smart motorways is that today’s cars are more reliable. I wish I knew on what basis that was made. After all, the recent consultation on extending the MOT to four years for new vehicles found that the public and industry didn’t like the idea on safety grounds. Plus, there are still a large number of older cars on the road, with the average age of the UK car parc around eight-years-old.
So, with more and more miles of motorway being converted to all-lane running, drivers need to be vigilant, stay safe and keep their wits about you. And plan your journeys for delays, just in case…