The risk of death on UK motorways is generally low. But it has been increasing over the last few years as the UK government has pressed ahead with so-called Smart Motorways. It’s just the old motorway with a no hard shoulder and more overhead cameras basically.
About 38 people have lost their lives in the last 5 years on these dangerous roads, according to the BBC, and despite the obvious risks the government is continuing with its roll-out of more 4-lane motorways, with occasional lay-bys for breakdowns. These `refuges’ will be more frequent on busy stretches of motorways like the M25 or certain sections of the M6, but is that enough to prevent more deaths?
Probably not and car insurers would be wise to issue clarity on the matter of advice to policyholders in the event of a breakdown or minor collision. If someone tells a customer to stay in the car, and that car is hit, then the insurer, or FNOL company who spoke to the driver roadside, may find a they have claim against them since the advice given at the time put the policyholder – and their passengers’ – lives in danger. It is a complex set of risks, which the government and Highways Agency seem extremely reluctant to consider.
Some might think that the UK government seem to be gambling that the rapid development of semi-autonomous cars will mean that vehicles will stop themselves, or change lanes to avoid a hazard, such as a broken down car, van or lorry. Essentially an AI-controlled convoy system where the driver is there only as a last resort, as back-up if systems fail.
But that `swarm’ tech is still in beta, as IT people say, and it will be a long time – possibly 20 years – before all analogue cars and vans are off the road through old age. Unless the government plans to make motorway access something that is reserved for those who own/lease vehicles with bumper sensors, cameras, Lidar etc. of course.
Here’s some RAC comment on the recent inquest;
Following the results of an inquest into the deaths of two people on a ‘smart motorway’ section of the M1 motorway, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said:
“Since Highways England’s major review of the design and operation of smart motorways some good progress has been made by adding more SOS areas to the M25 and developing a new standard for future schemes.
“The introduction of stopped vehicle detection technology is a vital element of this and is due to be retrofitted to existing smart motorways as well as schemes currently under construction. Sadly, there appears to have been precious little progress with retrofitting to date considering this was announced last March. While Highways England is considering a national programme to install more SOS areas on the existing network, we’d prefer them to commit to this fully so all refuge areas are consistent distances apart.
“We’d also like to see whether the promise of additional traffic officer patrols has been fulfilled as this will be a crucial ingredient in providing extra protection for drivers that are unfortunate enough to be stranded in a dangerous live-lane scenario. While we’re very supportive of stopped vehicle detection technology, the success of it still depends on other drivers seeing and obeying red ‘x’ closed-lane signs. If drivers don’t see these because gantries or verge-mounted signs are too far apart, then there’s still a risk of collision with a stationary vehicle.”