M27 smart motorway safety fears as police warn of 'dangerous location' for breakdown with no hard shoulder

SAFETY fears have been raised over the M27 smart motorway scheme after police warned of the ‘down side’ to having no hard shoulder.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 6:54 pm

Roads policing officers shows a photo of a car broken down on the main carriageway next to the turn off for junction 9 eastbound at Whiteley.

It comes as Highways England is spending £244m converting the stretch between junction 4 and 11 into a smart motorway, and turning the hard shoulder into a live lane. Refuge areas will be placed along road instead.

Police tweeted showing a black Citroen van stopped in lane one next to a crash barrier and in what was previously a hard shoulder but is now a live lane.

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Police near junction 9 eastbound of the M27 as a car has broken down in lane one. The motorway is being converted into a smart motorway. The vehicle is in a lane which was previously a hard shoulder. Picture: @Hantspolroads/Twitter

The @HantsPolRoads Twitter account said: ‘The downside to smart motorway.

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‘This driver stuck in a dangerous location with nowhere safe to go. With no hard shoulder we need to protect him whilst recovery is called.’

CCTV operators are supposed to spot breakdowns or crash and trigger a sign change to put a red X on any affected live lanes - effectively ordering traffic to stop using the lane.

The AA has warned people are ‘sitting ducks’ as it can take up to 17 minutes on average for camera controllers to spot an incident. The target is three minutes.

Smarter technology, called stationary vehicle detection system, covers just 24.2 miles out of the 135.1 miles of smart motorways in England.

This will not be installed on the M27. it will have a motorway incident detection and automatic signalling system with radars and loops instead.

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy at the AA, told The News: ‘Even a three-minute target (for controllers to spot the breakdown) is far too long for that particular vehicle.’

The AA is calling for more refuge areas to be put into smart motorways to better protect drivers.

Drivers travelling at 60mph on the M27 will pass a refuge area every 75 seconds, the highways agency said.

Mr Cousens added: ‘That driver is in a rather horrible spot because usually, or in most cases, you’d be able to get out the car and over the barrier. You can’t go anywhere.

‘That driver is a sitting duck, and there’s then a lot of trust that has to go on. Has the vehicle immediately behind that vehicle stopped? The other vehicles around it, immediately behind, have got to move out the way pretty damn quickly.

‘Has the camera spotted that it’s broken down? Has the red X been set? There’s a lot of trust.

‘Then you’re then relying on the police or Highways England traffic officers to try and protect that vehicle until someone can get to sit there.’

On its website the roads agency said CCTV cameras, and signs and signals on gantries will manage ‘traffic flow and incidents’. It added there will be refuges ‘throughout the length of the scheme’. And it said the central reservation will be hardened, and a barrier reinforced to improve safety.

Hampshire police was consulted on the M27 scheme. It is due to be finished between 2020-21.

Chief highways engineer Mike Wilson said: ‘Highways England would never carry out a major improvement scheme without being confident that we would maintain or enhance this position.

‘Evidence indicates that smart motorways are helping to improve safety. The first nine of the latest generation of smart motorways have reduced casualty rates by more than 25 per cent.’