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Recovery workers offered smart motorway training

Smart motorway training for recovery operators

Roadside rescue and recovery operators are to be offered smart motorway training in a bid to improve safety. 

The new course – the Smart Motorways Awareness For The Roadside Rescue & Recovery Industry – is the first of its kind and has been developed by Highways England and the Network Training Partnership.

Operators will receive guidance on how to attend breakdowns or collisions on the smart motorway network.

In August, Highways England data revealed that breaking down in a live lane on an all-lane-running smart motorway is 216 percent more dangerous than doing so on a conventional motorway with a hard shoulder.

Earlier this month, we reported that the widow of a man killed on the M1 is suing Highways England, claiming the smart motorway is directly responsible for his death.

The one-day course will cover the working methods that enable recovery operatives to carry out their roles safely. Key principles include:

  • Operators are NEVER expected to recover a vehicle in a live lane on a smart motorway.
  • Highways England can close lanes and set speed limits to support recovery operators.
  • Highways England can allocate traffic officers or call the emergency services to maintain safety.

‘Developed specifically for roadside rescue and recovery drivers’

car breakdown

Colin Stevenson, strategic partnership manager at Highways England, said: “The course has been developed specifically for roadside rescue and recovery drivers who use the motorway network and has been designed to aid practical, relevant training.

“Those completing the course will have a better understanding of the different types of smart motorways and how to formulate a recovery plan incorporating safe working practices when dealing with incidents on smart motorways.”

Chris Hoare, chairman of the Institute of Vehicle Recovery, added: “The Institute of Vehicle Recovery (IVR) has given its backing to the new smart motorways recovery vehicle awareness course, which gives all in the recovery industry a greater awareness of some of the additional considerations when working on a smart motorway.

“IVR’s previous collaborations with HE and other agencies produced the Life on the Edge 7 film and the SURVIVE Safety Rules, both of which are incorporated in the course. This collaborative approach of sharing best practice to deliver clear consistent messages, raises standards and ultimately provides a safer working environment for those operating in the vehicle recovery sector.”

Anyone wishing to enrol on the course should email Highways England.

‘Supercabs’ help to cut motorway collisions by a third

HGV Supercab

A week of action to improve road safety on the M1 helped to reduce collisions by almost a third, thanks in part to the deployment of ‘supercabs’.

The three custom-built Mercedes-Benz Actros trucks – also known as HGV supercabs – were acquired by Highways England in 2018 to help police catch people committing offences behind the wheel.

Thanks to the high vantage point, officers can look down on car and van drivers to catch people texting, using a smartphone or not wearing a seatbelt. The officers are also well placed to look across to other lorry drivers who are driving without due care and attention.

All three supercabs were used during the M1 safety week in May, during which time the number of collisions fell from 90 the previous week to 64. This is the fourth lowest number of collisions in 2019 and the second lowest outside school holidays.

The supercabs were used to catch a total of 200 dangerous drivers committing an offence, with each one stopped by a police officer. Hundreds of other motorists were given safety tips at motorway services.

Offences ranged from using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel, not wearing a seatbelt and careless driving.

Little changes can make a big difference

HGV supercab police truck

Richard Leonard, head of road safety at Highways England, said: “We’ve been really impressed with the results of our week of action on the M1 which shows how making little changes to the way you drive can make a big difference to safety on our motorways.

“Our HGV supercabs helped the police identify almost 200 dangerous drivers who could have caused collisions if they hadn’t been pulled over, and our safety tips at motorway services and in the media also helped to make the M1 safer for everyone.

“As part of our current motorway driving campaign, we’re encouraging drivers to remember the basics of motorway driving to help keep us all moving so that the number of accidents continue to fall in the weeks and months ahead.”

PC Dave Lee from the safer roads team at Northamptonshire Police expressed his irritation at the number of drivers stopped during the safety week. “It’s always disappointing to catch drivers breaking the law.

“However, with a high number of motorists observed throughout the operation, these figures show it’s a small minority who continue to commit these types of offences.”

The supercabs are fitted with flashing lights for use in an emergency and have derestricted speed limiters to allow them to travel at higher speeds. Six police forces used them during the M1 safety week.

Earlier this year, Highways England released a video of a lorry driver making a credit card payment behind the wheel. In a separate video, Northamptonshire Police said they used a supercab to record a driver watching television, while another was filmed trying to cook their dinner.

‘No plans’ for smart M5 motorway in Somerset

No plans for smart M5 motorway

Highways England says it has “no current plans” to turn the M5 into a smart motorway in Somerset.

The section between Junction 25 at Taunton and Junction 15 for the M4 motorway is a notorious traffic blackspot, especially during the summer. 

A smart motorway is a technology-enabled section of motorway that uses traffic management methods to control the flow of traffic and reduce congestion.

In some cases, the hard shoulder is used as a ‘live’ running lane to increase capacity, along with variable speed restrictions to maintain a smooth flow of traffic.

Previously, Sedgemoor District Council said it would phase in smart technology to cut congestion and increase capacity at peak times.

‘Address existing and future congestion’

Traffic on M5 motorway

The Sedgemoor Transport Strategy document outlined the council’s plans for the road network until the year 2050, including “improvements to address existing and future congestion and resilience issues along the M5 motorway”.

“The Council will also promote smart motorways proposals on the M5 which would use digital technology to better monitor traffic levels and implement hard shoulder running, variable speed limits, or even close lanes remotely via gantry signage if accidents have occurred.”

“The District will be seeking full implementation of smart motorway infrastructure along the M5 corridor,” it said.

But Highways England has ruled it out, which could be bad news for local residents and the thousands of holidaymakers who use the M5 every summer.

‘No current plans’

M5 motorway sign

Rebecca Edmond, head of south west planning and development for Highways England, said: “There are no current plans to introduce a smart motorway to the Sedgemoor section of the M5.

“We are, though, finalising designs to bring more technological benefits to drivers between Junction 23 (Bridgwater) and Junction 25 (Taunton), a part of the motorway which currently suffers from delays.”

Highways England is installing a driver information and queue protection scheme between Junctions 17 and 18, and plans to introduce a similar scheme between Junctions 23 and 25 later this year.

“The scheme will give our South West Regional Operations Centre greater visibility of this area of the network,” added Edmond, “and it means we’ll be able to better detect incidents and then let drivers know so they can make informed choices about their journeys.”

Last week, Highways England announced that it will remove 480 miles of roadworks over the August bank holiday weekend.

The world’s first solar road is a failure

French solar road a failure

A 0.6-mile stretch of solar road paved with photovoltaic panels that was billed as ‘unprecedented’ when it was unveiled in 2016 has been all but condemned

The French government invested €5million (£4.6 million) into the Route Solaire. It contained 2,800 photovoltaic panels that could absorb solar energy to power nearby households. It was expected the ‘Wattway’ would generate as much as 790 kilowatt-hours per day, but it never reached that output.

Normal solar panels that don’t double as roads are usually pointed towards the sun. As a road, the panels had to be flat, limiting their exposure. In addition to this, dead leaves and other environmental run-off that could limit the efficiency of the panels were not accounted for.

French solar road a failure

It’s also estimated that the Tourouvre au Perche area of Normandy doesn’t get the level of solar exposure required to make a solar road worthwhile. In 2016, the area had around 40 days of strong sunshine.

Of course, the solar panels not working quite as well as the designers had hoped is one thing. The fact that the road isn’t structurally sound is quite another. Upon its completion, it was claimed that the silicon resin surface was able to withstand the weight of 18-wheelers.

Three years on, the road hasn’t been as durable as expected. The resin is splintering, the panels are peeling and the electrics are failing, locals claim.

Even when new, the road wasn’t considered fit for purpose. The road generated a high level of noise, leading to locals requesting that the speed limit be lowered to 70kmh (43mph).

‘Should first stop cars driving on it’

Even the builder, Colas construction group, has admitted the project has been far from a success. “Our system is not mature for inter-urban traffic.

“If they really want this to work, they should first stop cars driving on it,” commented Marc Jedliczka, vice president of the Network for Energetic Transition.

How to avoid being a victim of road rage

Road rage is a common problem on UK roads. A recent poll of 3,000 people found that nearly one in five road users are threatened with physical violence each year.

In a separate study, 22 percent of motorists* claimed to have got out of their car to argue with another driver in a road rage incident.

Dangerous overtaking is said to be the main trigger for road rage, prompting 28 percent of drivers to engage in an argument with a fellow motorist. Tailgating, using a mobile phone at the wheel and breaking the speed limit were the other sparks of anger named in the study.

Ahead of the end of the summer holiday period, road safety and breakdown company GEM Motoring Assist is encouraging drivers to spot the signs of road rage. Tens of thousands of motorists will hit the road over the bank holiday weekend, with Highways England removing roadworks to relieve stress.

“Most of us will have some experience of being on the receiving end of someone else’s aggression,” said Neil Worth, road safety officer at GEM.

“Thankfully, violent and unprovoked attacks are rare, but it pays to be observant and if possible to recognise signs of trouble at their earliest stages.

Avoiding road rage

road rage incident

GEM has identified a few steps that it says will reduce the risk of a driver being the target of someone else’s aggression. These are:

  • Keep calm and show restraint: every journey brings the risk of frustration and conflict, so be patient and avoid using your horn. Hand gestures should be avoided, too.
  • Avoid the desire to ‘get even’: don’t attempt to educate or rebuke a driver who you believe is in the wrong.
  • Don’t push into traffic queues: wait for a signal from a fellow motorist.
  • Say thank you, say sorry: if you make a mistake, offer an apology to defuse any anger.
  • Move away from trouble: if you feel threatened, lock the doors and drive to the nearest police station. Alternatively, move to a busy area, such as a petrol station. Contact the police and/or press the horn repeatedly to deter an attacker.

Neil Worth added: “We encourage drivers to leave plenty of time for their journeys, which means they can feel calm and in control at the wheel. Stress can lead to risk taking, and this in turn increases the likelihood of aggressive incidents.

Man and woman road rage

“We also urge drivers to avoid becoming involved in situations they recognise as dangerous or risky. If you’re worried about another driver who may be in danger, then stop and call the police.”

Olympic gold medal winning cyclist and jockey Victoria Pendleton has backed a campaign aimed at encouraging a constructive debate on ‘road equality.” She said everyone has “an equal right to be on the road”.

“So let’s be more compassionate and considerate to others and see what change we can drive.”

*Cap HPI spoke to 1,002 adult drivers in February 2019.

UK government has 74 ideas to cut road deaths

Government has 74 ideas to cut road deaths

“We can no longer keep doing the same things in the same way if we want to improve” road safety is the message from the government as it launches its action plan to cut deaths.

The Road Safety Statement outlines the actions over the next two years, with 74 ideas designed to improve road safety.

The UK is ranked third in Europe and second in the EU in terms of safety, when ranked by the number of road deaths per million inhabitants.

Only Norway (20 road deaths per million) and Sweden (25 road deaths per million) boast a superior road safety record.

There were 1,793 reported fatalities in 2017 – 39 percent fewer compared with 2007. But the government thinks we can do even better. 

‘We are not complacent’

Crash as a result of drug-driving

“The UK has some of the safest roads in the world,” said transport secretary Chris Grayling, “but we are not complacent and continue to look at how we can make them safer.

“Today’s action plan is a key milestone in our road safety work and sets out the important steps we are taking to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads.”

Over the past 12 months, the Department of Transport (DfT) has announced a series of road safety measures, including £100 million Safer Roads Funds, designed to improve safety on the 50 most dangerous roads in England. The DfT has also given nearly £500,000 to the RAC Foundation to learn more about collision investigations.

The two-year action plan is largely focused on four user groups: young road users, rural road users, motorcyclists and older vulnerable road users. In the background is a three-pillar approach to road safety, encompassing safer vehicles, safer speed and a safer infrastructure.

Always wear your seatbelt

Everything from traffic signs, the fitment of child seats, drink-driving, the use of mobile phones at while driving and not wearing a seatbelt are included in the 69-page document published by the DfT.

The government is considering increasing the penalties for drivers who do not belt up in the car, with 27 percent of car deaths involving people who were not wearing a seatbelt.

Road Safety Minister Michael Ellis said: “Far too many people are not wearing a seatbelt while traveling in a car, needlessly putting their lives at risk.

“Increasing penalties for people who disregard the simplest of way of protecting themselves is just one of a long list of actions this government is taking to help keep people safe on our roads.”

The Road Safety Statement: summary

Lorry close to cyclist

The 74 proposals outlined in the Road Safety Statement 2019: A Lifetime of Road Safety publication can be split into the following categories:

  • Young road users: first steps to greater safety
  • Young adults: dealing with growing independence
  • Adults: staying within the law
  • Third-age adults: safety as you get older
  • Fleets and people who drive for work
  • Safer heavy goods vehicles (HGVs)
  • Safer motorcycles
  • Emissions and air quality
  • Automated vehicles
  • Rural roads
  • The strategic road network
  • Urban areas and the environment
  • Road collisions
  • Building foundations for the future

RAC welcomes the proposals

Rural road

In response to the publication, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “The Government is rightly recognising there are different challenges drivers contend with throughout their driving careers, so we broadly welcome many of these proposals.

“Of course it is right to crack down on those that do not wear a seatbelt and we welcome tougher penalties which will encourage some to belt up behind the wheel. But this alone won’t be enough to make the roads safer.

“A number of those who choose not to buckle up are also likely to be those that flout other road traffic laws. This reinforces the importance of enforcement and we fear some drivers will persist without the genuine threat of being caught and prosecuted for not wearing a seatbelt.

“The Government is also right to focus on rural roads given that these types of roads are often where many serious collisions take place. Incorporating plans for learner drivers to get more practice on these road types as well as night time driving will be beneficial to improving overall driving standards.”

Highways England’s new super-truck promises to cut congestion

Highways England ECRU super-truck

Its official name is Enhanced Customer Response Unit (ECRU), but if it delivers on its promise to ‘dramatically reduce delays for drivers’, it’ll develop a reputation as a ‘super-truck’.

The ECRU – which is the first of its kind in the UK – is being trialled in the West Midlands from July, with the vehicle manned by both Highways England traffic officers and incident support staff from contractor Kier.

It combines the expertise, knowledge and equipment of both teams who deal with post-incident clean-ups and repairs.

Motorists in the West Midlands are unlikely to miss the ECRU super-truck – it looks like a full-size Lego Technic creation. The warning beacons and electronic message signs are the most visible features.

But the ECRU can also carry bigger signs and more cones. Super-truck is super-size.

Other features of note include impact-absorbing cushions on the back to protect road workers, an on-board sweeper and a pressure washer. 

‘Huge strides’

Highways England ECRU in the West Midlands

Highways England corporate group leader Martin Bolt said: “Highways England continually strives to develop new ways and innovations that will help keep our road network clear and traffic moving.

“By combining services in one vehicle we can deal with incidents and issues more quickly.

“Working with our partners Kier we have been able to take huge strides in ensuring smoother, safer journeys for all road users.”

Scott Cooper, managing director strategic highways at Kier, added: “Having one innovation performing a range of tasks will allow us to respond to incidents quicker, inevitably saving time for our customers.

“Jointly occupying the vehicle demonstrates our continued commitment to working collaboratively to improve efficiencies and achieve the best results for both road users and workers.”

If the West Midlands trial is successful, you can expect to see the ECRU multi-tasking super-truck appearing on a main road near you in the future. 

Bug hotels part of plan to protect wildlife on the A38 in Devon

The A38 in Devon

Highways England is trialling a cutting edge biotechnology system on the A38 in Devon as part of a £30 million Biodiversity Plan.

A bio-engineered filtration pond will act like a reed bed, using a soil specifically designed to trap dissolved pollutants in the water run-off.

Such water can contain harmful pollutants from the road and adjacent farmland, impacting the water quality and harming wildlife.

If successful, the system could be rolled out across the country, says Highways England.

The scheme started yesterday (10 June) and is expected to continue for 14 weeks, although Highways England is hoping to “limit the impact on traffic”.

A tunnel will be bored under the A38 to modify the existing drainage system and divert the run-off water into the new treatment centre. Two overnight closures are planned for the A38 in August, along with temporary traffic lights on the B3380 between the Dean Burn overbridge and the westbound sliproad during June and August.

The Biodiversity Plan says that verges and associated land can be managed to provide areas of habitat, relatively free from human access.

To this end, bug hotels, butterfly scrapes and bee banks are also being installed as part of the works on the A38.

Tarmacadam and the ants

The A30 in Cornwall

Over the last 12 months, Highways England has worked on grassland and wildflower creation projects in Devon and Cornwall, along with a scheme to protect the habitat of the narrow-headed ant, England’s rarest ant, on the A38.

Project manager Michelle Reed said: “We are delighted to be able to work on such a worthwhile pilot environmental scheme, especially as it is the first time this system has been used on the strategic road network in England.

“The filtration system provides a physical barrier to polluted water, then chemical and biological mechanisms work in combination to break down even more pollutants. It also has the advantage of taking up far less space than other treatment systems, which makes it very cost effective.

“When completed, this work should significantly improve the quality of water running into Dean Burn and help to support the local environment and its wildlife.”

These are the times to avoid the roads this weekend

bank holiday weekend traffic

Around 22 million leisure trips are planned for this Bank Holiday weekend – the highest in six years years, according to the RAC.

That’s eight million MORE than last year, as motorists take to the road to make the most of the last holiday weekend before the end of August. Top tip: you might want to stay at home to paint the downstairs cloakroom, or something.

Fortunately, the RAC has also revealed the busiest periods over the weekend, so with some canny forward planning, you can avoid the jams. The roads are likely to be particularly busy at the following times:

  • Friday 24 May (5.6 million leisure trips): busiest between 4pm and 7pm
  • Saturday 25 May (6.6 million leisure trips): busiest between 10am and 3pm
  • Sunday 26 May (5 million leisure trips): busiest between 10am and 3pm
  • Monday 27 May (5.3 million leisure trips): busiest between 12pm and 4pm

For its part, Highways England is removing 97 percent of roadworks on motorways and A-roads over the weekend, so you have a fighting chance of reaching your in-laws in time for tea. This may or may not be a good thing.

RAC patrol of the year Ben Aldous said: “Our research suggests a lot of drivers are planning on taking to the road over this weekend, with routes leading to the coasts, national parks and highlands like the Lake District likely to see significant volumes of traffic – and some extensive jams.”

The Bank Holiday weekend weather forecast

M6 Cumbria favourite driving route

Met Office deputy chief meteorologist, Chris Bulmer said: “This upcoming Bank Holiday weekend will start off fine and warm with sunny spells in the south, but for northern parts of the UK it’ll be cooler, cloudier and breezy with some rain at times. 

“At the moment Saturday looks to be one of the better days of the weekend with the promise of sunshine for most, whereas Sunday will be cloudier with outbreaks of rain moving in from the west.

“By Monday this rain and cloud should clear with a return to sunny spells and the odd shower in places, feeling cooler across the country in the fresh westerly breeze.”

The UK’s favourite driving routes revealed

M6 Cumbria favourite driving route

The M6 in Cumbria has been named as one of England’s favourite driving routes in an online poll created by Highways England.

A not entirely surprising choice given the rugged scenery and rolling hills surrounding the motorway, but the other top choices were less predictable.

The M5 in the South West might be associated with holidays in Devon and Cornwall, but as drivers are likely to discover over the forthcoming Bank Holiday weekend, congestion can often delay the family getaway.

Other favourite driving routes included the A1 in Northumberland and the M1 near Lutterworth.

Highways England has published the results ahead of the Bank Holiday when its teams will be removing more than 700 miles of roadworks.

As a result, around 97 percent of England’s motorways and major A-roads will be blissfully free of roadworks in time for the last Bank Holiday weekend before summer.

Stay on these roads

traffic delays on the M5 near Bristol

Highways England’s customer service director Melanie Clarke said: “Many people have a favourite road they love driving on – and we want everyone to reach their destinations safely.

“We’re doing everything we can to make journeys as smooth as possible for those travelling and that’s why we’re keeping around 97 percent of the road network we manage, free from roadworks.

“Safety is our top priority and we know from experience that almost half of breakdowns can easily be avoided if motorists carry out simple vehicle checks before setting off over this period.”

These simple checks include:

  • Ensuring you have enough fuel to reach your destination
  • Checking the pressures and condition of your tyres
  • Checking the engine oil before embarking on a long journey
  • Topping up your screenwash
  • Checking the headlights, indicators, reversing lights and brake lights

The motorway and major A-road network will be free of roadworks from 6am Friday 24 May until 12.01am on Tuesday 28 May.