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Smart Motorways

26 November 21

Smart Motorways

Smart motorways- what is the view as an emergency truck tyre replacement service following the Government’s review and recently published report of their safety and future development?

In October 2019, the Secretary of State asked the Department to carry out an evidence stocktake to gather the facts on the safety of smart motorways and make recommendations.  The Government has considered a wide range of data and recently presented a report on its conclusions concerning the safety of this type of motorway which concludes that they will continue to roll-out smart motorways until 2025 and that on balance they are a ‘safer’ option.

At Tyrenet, we think this will have an impact on the safety risks that roadside tyre replacement personnel  and commercial vehicle drivers are exposed to. This further underpins the need for fleets to choose the fastest tyre replacement service and one that caters for all types of commercial vehicles and that has a national network of 24 hour mobile tyre fitters to get their vehicles moving and out of danger as soon as possible.

In answer to the question ‘Why do we have smart motorways?’ they say that the number of miles driven on motorways in England has increased by 23% since 2000 and they consider that Smart motorways are needed to keep the country moving by raising the capacity of the busiest motorways by up to a third as smart motorway can carry1,600 additional vehicles an hour in each direction and studies on the M25 have shown that these roads have enabled an additional 11,000 journeys a day. 

It is understood that on the M6 Junctions 16 to 19 smart motorway, around Crewe, the average commute over a week has reduced by 40 minutes and journey reliability has also demonstrably improved but at what cost in terms of safety?  We appreciate that the alternative is time-consuming and potentially destructive: building new motorways, or widening the existing ones but when things go wrong such as a roadside emergency tyre replacement, it is the mobile tyre rescue teams who are in the front line as they attend a vehicle and carry out the truck tyre emergency replacement as fast as possible.  We do what we can at Tyrenet by making the roadside truck tyre service as quick as possible aiming to get the vehicle back on the road in 90 minutes vs the typical 3 hours it would normally take.

None-the-less the truck driver is at risk as are other road users and especially the emergency tyre fitter during that time.

The Government argues that otherwise without smart motorways it would require bridges across the motorways to be demolished and rebuilt and that many people's homes would have to be destroyed and hundreds of acres of green space would have to be built on.  They estimate “that the smart motorway network (in operation or planned) has saved, or will save, land equivalent to more than 700 Wembley Stadium-sized football pitches from being lost”, but we ask at whose cost?

According to the Government’s website  the safe places to stop in an emergency  are approximately only 110 yards long (the average length of a football pitch) by 15 feet wide and are set back from the left-hand edge of the motorway with an emergency telephone to alert Highways England of an issue and to call for help.  Increasingly, they have an orange surface to make them more visible but crucially the distance between places to stop in an emergency varies across the smart motorways, from 0.3 miles. to 1.6 miles apart.  In conclusion the Government now plans to retro fit emergency areas so that they are no more than 1 mile apart which will be a help for fleet management services and fast tyre replacement services but that will take time and will be part of the planned work until 2025.

How do motorways compare to other roads in the UK?

The Government’s research suggests that motorways, smart or conventional, are far safer than any other major roads. There are no pedestrians and cyclists. There are far fewer junctions than on other roads, and those junctions which are there, are designed to allow traffic to join or leave in greater safety. There are fewer sharp bends and gradients are less steep also any traffic crossing the motorway uses bridges or tunnels.

Their conclusion is within Great Britain, motorways are comparatively the safest major roads to travel on evidenced by: 

- in 2018 motorways carried 21% of the road traffic but had only 6% of fatal collisions.

- Highways England's 2017 Safety Report showed how the killed and serious injury accident rate varied across road types on the strategic road network in 2017. This showed a risk that was 2.7 times greater on A-roads compared to motorways, or 6.2 times greater when comparing a single-carriageway A-road to a motorway.

It is also true that the commercial vehicle roadside tyre fitter has to attend vehicles wherever the emergency flat tyre occurs in general and this does mean that the emergency roadside tyre assistance is given in all weathers, times of the day and location.  “I’ve been a tyre man most of my life and my biggest concern is the safety of all concerned”, said Mike Riley MD of Tyrenet.  “ I know that the tyre dealer and fitters recognise that it comes with the territory but it is vitally important that we check that all of our emergency breakdown service teams are fully trained, qualified and work for compliant businesses, so much so that we even hold copies of their compliance documents and remind them when renewals are due”, he added.  

Mike recognises that if there is anything that Tyrenet can do to improve the safety of people at a breakdown, they would do it.  “ the main thing that we can do at the moment, is make sure that we pull out all the stops to deliver the fastest truck tyre replacement possible and get the vehicle moving again.  That starts with directing the fitter to the exact spot first time, to reduce roadside time and keeping the driver fully informed too”.

How do fatalities on smart motorways compare to motorways as a whole?

Public concern has been focused on fatalities occurring on smart (ALR and DHS) motorways - those without a permanent hard shoulder. In three of the last four years, the share of fatalities occurring on these motorways was lower than the share of traffic carried, suggesting that a lower share of fatalities occur on DHS and ALR compared to the motorway network as whole. The only exception was 2017, when the share of fatalities was higher than the share of traffic carried.

-          In 2018, ALR and DHS motorways carried 13.8 per cent of the traffic on the motorway network. They accounted for 12.8 per cent of the fatalities.
-          In 2017, ALR and DHS motorways carried 11.7 per cent of the traffic on the motorway network. They accounted for 12.8 per cent of the fatalities.
-          In 2016, ALR and DHS motorways carried 9.6 per cent of the traffic on the motorway network. They accounted for 3.9 per cent of the fatalities.
-          In 2015, ALR and DHS motorways carried 7.6 per cent of the traffic on the motorway network. They accounted for 5.4 per cent of the fatalities.

How do these new motorways compare on serious casualties?

The Government report shows that in 2018, serious casualty rates were slightly lower on ALR and DHS motorways than on the motorway network as a whole. That year, ALR and DHS motorways carried 13.8 per cent of the traffic on the motorway network. They accounted for 13.2 per cent of the serious casualties.

However, the serious casualty rate on ALR and DHS motorways combined has been slightly higher in the past. Over the four years 2015-18 (inclusive), ALR and DHS motorways carried, on average, 10.7 per cent of the traffic on the motorway network. They accounted for, on average, 11.4 per cent of the serious casualties.

The report goes on to evidence a number of other statistics comparing the volume of traffic compared to the levels of injury and fatalities but our concern is that whilst the chances of this occurring for the general public is remarkably low.  That risk increases significantly for commercial vehicle drivers and emergency tyre replacement staff who are at the ‘sharp end’ and exposing themselves to the danger routinely as part of their job, admittedly alongside other emergency services personnel.

Surely the live lane collision risk is greater if there's no hard shoulder?

The Government advise that the risk of a live lane collision between a moving vehicle and a stopped vehicle is greater on smart motorways but the risk of a collision between two or more moving vehicles is lower. This is because  smart motorways have mandatory speed limits to smooth traffic flow and electronic signs to warn drivers of incidents ahead. This means less speeding, tailgating and fewer rapid changes of speed. This gives drivers more time to react if something happens.

The fact remains that the emergency tyre replacement team are less exposed to moving traffic and more exposed to the stopped vehicle scenario or accepted higher level of risk on a smart motorway.

In their report the Government go on to compare the UK with safety records of other countries. The United Kingdom has some of the safest roads in the world where the number of road deaths per million inhabitants is lower in the UK than in almost every country within Europe. The UK ranks just behind the top performers, Norway and Switzerland, with 28 deaths per million inhabitants in 2018.

Unfortunately, this does not reduce our concerns and those of the industry, rapid roadside tyre assistance for commercial vehicles is and always will be a vitally important role and one that we at Tyrenet are proud to deliver and proud to lead.  We will always strive for improved safety standards and our teams recognise the risks and do everything that they can to mitigate them.

To see the full Government report and the proposed plans for the future follow this link. 


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