Smart motorway technology must improve ‘urgently’

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By Creative Media News

The transportation watchdog has stated that technology geared at boosting safety on all-lane running smart highways has to be enhanced “urgently.”

The Office for Rail and Road (ORR) stated that radar-based equipment intended to increase the detection of stranded vehicles on smart motorways with no hard shoulder is falling short of its goals.

All-lane highways are intended to reduce traffic congestion, but detractors claim they have contributed to fatalities.

In January, their release was halted.

Before allowing more to be constructed, the government is now gathering data on existing all-lane intelligent highways to evaluate their safety.

By the end of the year 2020, England has 369 miles of smart highways, including 168 km without a hard shoulder.

Smart motorway technology must improve 'urgently'
Smart motorway technology must improve 'urgently'

Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) was placed on every existing all-lane highway by the end of September of this year as one of the safety-enhancing measures for these types of highways.

The ORR stated that it was too early to observe the full effects of SVD due to the technology’s rapid adoption.

However, while SVD has “helped to lessen the duration” of breakdowns on live lanes, it was “not functioning as well as it should be.”

The regulator stated, among other things, that “false detection rates” were excessively high.

John Larkinson, chief executive officer of the ORR, stated, “It is evident that National Highways [the organization responsible for highways] must improve its performance in this area immediately.”

Under the SVD performance standards, alert times must be less than 20 seconds.

In four of the five English regions tested by National Highways, however, the average delay was greater than forty seconds.

In Yorkshire and the North East, the average was 64.8 seconds or more than a minute. The average in the North West was only 15,7 seconds, which was well within the target.

The watchdog stated that National Highways was now “seeking quick enhancements” to the SVD technology to reach “the required performance levels by the end of June 2023,” and that the ORR would take additional measures if improvements did not occur.

National Highways stated, “Our roads are among the safest in the world, but every road fatality is a tragedy, and we know we can do more to enhance safety.

It stated that it was committed to ensuring that SVD functions well within the next six months, but also noted that different sources, including the police, the public, the recovery industry, and traffic officers, were employed to inform and detect stopped vehicles.

What is an intelligent highway?

A smart highway is a section of roadway where technology is utilized to regulate traffic flow and, hopefully, reduce congestion. There are three major categories:

Controlled roadways with a permanent hard shoulder that use technology such as variable speed limits to regulate traffic flows.

Dynamic, in which the hard shoulder can be opened up and used as an additional lane during peak hours; when this occurs, the speed limit is dropped to 60 mph.

All-lane running, where the hard shoulder has been permanently removed to offer an additional lane; troubled-vehicle refuge spaces are provided at intervals.

All three versions direct drivers using overhead gantries. Variable speed restrictions are implemented to regulate traffic flow in instances of congestion or impending danger. These restrictions are enforced by speed cameras.

Edmund King, president of the AA motoring organization, described the ineffectiveness of the SVD system as a “serious issue” for motorists.

For’smart’s highways to be truly smart and safe, their underlying technology must be completely functional,” he stated. “If there are reservations about the technology, then the highways are not intelligent, and we should return to tried-and-true approaches.”

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy for the RAC, stated, “Breaking down in a live lane is terrible enough, but drivers must have confidence that the infrastructure will detect them swiftly so that authorities can block the lane immediately.”

The ORR has also evaluated the effectiveness of the Smart Motorway Action Plan implemented by the government in 2020.

Under the strategy, the government collects data on the safety of smart highways and develops strategies to enhance their safety.

The ORR states that it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions regarding success, but acknowledges that “National Highways has achieved substantial improvements in traffic cops’ response times.”

In September, the national average for response times where there was more than one mile between safe places to stop fell below 10 minutes for the first time.

Overall, the ORR reported that National Highways “appears to be on track to accomplish its major safety goal of halving the number of individuals killed or seriously injured on the SRN [Strategic Road Network] by 2025, compared to a baseline of 2005 to 2009” In England, the SRN consists of motorways and several A roads.

However, there was a possibility that the number of casualties could climb if, as projected, traffic levels increase more in 2022, as traffic levels were still affected by the pandemic in 2021.

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