Highways England is introducing two new resources to make it easier for disabled people to use England’s motorways and major A-roads. Disabled people represent 5% of the driving population but the lack of relevant information in suitable formats can make planning a journey difficult, according to independent watchdog Transport Focus.
Highways England aims to address this by introducing guides to facilities offered at motorway service areas, and by making it possible for deaf people to communicate with its customer contact centre using British Sign Language (BSL).
Deaf people will be able to use SignLive to access an online professional BSL interpreter, who will translate their conversation with Highways England. As well as offering journey planning information, Highways England hopes this service will enable deaf people to receive faster assistance in the event of a break down.
AccessAble, a free app which provides accessibility information on thousands of venues across the UK and Ireland, has begun surveying over 100 motorway services areas, determining the accessibility of parking, toilets, petrol stations, shops and restaurants.
David Livermore of AccessAble, said: “The project will not only give people all the information they need to plan a trip but also support Highways England and motorway service operators to see how facilities could be improved in the future.”
Risk posed to disabled people by smart motorways
Campaign groups, including Disability Rights UK, have backed a legal challenge against the rollout of smart motorways, saying that they pose unacceptable risks for disabled people. Hard shoulders can be used as active lanes on smart motorways when it is deemed the road needs more capacity. The government has committed to rolling out around 300 miles of smart motorways by 2025.
Disability Rights UK CEO Kamran Mallick, said: “Highways England has failed to recognise the risks posed for disabled people who break down or need to exit their vehicles in emergencies. This lack of consideration is a breach of the Equality Act which discriminates against wheelchair users.
“The advice for drivers who get stuck on smart motorways is to exit the vehicle from the passenger side. For wheelchair users with adapted vehicles, exit is from a ramp, normally to the rear of a vehicle. Without a hard shoulder, it is impossible to deploy these safely.
“Carers who drive cannot exit from the passenger side where the wheelchair is blocking the exit. Disabled drivers would have to run an impromptu and deadly assault course. Is the expectation that disabled drivers, implausibly assuming we can, haul ourselves across the passenger seat, fall out the door onto the tarmac, belly roll to the crash barriers, and then climb over?
“The lack of safe exit strategies for disabled people means we are sitting ducks for other traffic to hit whether we stay in our vehicles or against all odds manage to exit our vehicles. Smart motorways are about as unsafe as it gets for us.”