A recent report has revealed that the technology used in the radar system for smart motorways is not working as it should. This is massively concerning as the whole point of smart motorways is that they are deemed safer than the standard motorway. Technology failure could lead to disaster, and therefore, steps must be taken to rectify the problem.
The Radar System
The radar system is designed to alert operators to the fact that a vehicle has stopped in a live lane. It is supposed to identify 80% of vehicles, and the operator must then identify and check on the alarm within a 20-second time window. At the moment, neither of these targets is being met, and according to the AA president Edmund King, this is simply unacceptable. If a car stops in a live lane of a motorway, it is the most dangerous place and leaves the driver in an incredibly vulnerable position.
Smart motorways do not have a hard shoulder, and the AA is calling on the transport secretary to take steps to temporarily fix the problem until the national highways can find a permanent solution. They are suggesting that the outside lane is run as a hard shoulder with a red X preventing traffic from entering it. They are also suggesting a retrofit is needed quickly to install emergency lay-bys so no matter where someone breaks down, they are never too far away from a place of safety.
The aim of the smart motorway was the better control traffic to reduce congestion and increase capacity at times when traffic flow is known to be busy. This means the current hard shoulder becomes a running lane, and signage is used to create variable speed limits in an attempt to better control traffic flow. Smart signage can also be used to restrict Lane usage if there is an accident by displaying a Red Cross symbol either over a lane on the overhead gantry or on the cantilever signs found at the sides of the motorway. However, drivers have been known to ignore the Red Cross, which is incredibly dangerous as it means that the lane or, in some cases, the hard shoulder has been designated closed to traffic.
Safe Smart Motorway Driving
In order to stay safe on smart motorways, drivers are encouraged to keep an eye on the speed limits shown on the overhead gantries. Use the motorway as you would normally, sticking to the three lanes with broken white lines and avoiding the hard shoulder unless you are directed to use it. If you experience difficulties, you should look for a safe place to get off the road and use your hazard warning lights. Smart motorways have Emergency Refuge Areas or SOS areas, and these are places that are relatively safe when there is no hard shoulder if you become stranded. These areas are for emergency use only a must not be used to make a phone call or take a rest stop.