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Could an extra £1-2 m have helped to save lives on a stretch of smart motorway? AA

The AA has exposed documents produced by Highways Agency (predecessor to Highways England) about the consideration of extra refuge areas on part of the fatality hotspot on the M1 north of Nottingham*.

The official document states: “The primary goals for the scheme do not include improving safety and the road user safety objective is to ensure that the scheme is no less safe than the safety baseline.”

The AA criticises this goal as being ‘unambitious and complacent when it comes to the crucial safety of the motorway.’

The report accepts that risk of ‘Vehicle stops in running lane – Off Peak’ will increase. The AA questions if this was known at the time why wasn’t more done to mitigate this risk.

Even though the report states they would expect a ‘reduction in risk of approximately 3%’ they also note that ‘this risk score is semi-quantitative and does not provide an absolute measure of risk.’

The report then looks at the expected impact on road safety if they increased the number of ERAs. The AA was calling for this at the time.

Both options considered would see a reduction in live lane stops. The AA states this is common sense but Highways England /DFT have repeatedly said to the AA that ‘there is no evidence to suggest more ERAs more reduce live lane stops’. This was said as recently as two weeks ago.

Police: The report also states they considered an ‘extended ERA scheme on the longest link’ in effect extending the ERA from one 100m to 300m.  South Yorkshire police felt this could have helped ‘proactive policing’ presumably because in a police pursuit it is impossible to safely pull over a fast-moving car into a 100m lay-by**.

This concept was down-played as it would be likely to lead to ‘increased misuse’. Presumably they thought drivers would use it as a lay-by?

Safety: The report says that decreasing the spacing ‘of refuge areas results in a small net decrease in risk to road users.’

Costs: The report concludes that in Option 1 increasing the current ERA provision from 8 to 10 and an average spacing of 1543m would cost between £0.35m to £0.7m

The report shows that in Option 2 adding six more ERAs would cost between £1 – £2m moving from 8 to 14 ERAs at an average spacing of 1304m

The AA believes that an extra cost of £1m to £2m is a very small cost to pay in the overall scheme to enhance safety, reduce live lane breakdowns and potentially save lives.

Breakdowns in live lanes: The report also seems to massively underestimate the likely % breakdowns in live lanes depending on spacing. At the speciation of 2500m spacing it estimated between 25.99 and 26.1% breakdowns in live lanes whereas the current rate on such stretches is 38%.

The AA finds it incredulous that the modelling on live lane breakdowns was so far out.

The report also considers the difference in vehicles stopping in a running lane (off peak) before the smart motorway was constructed and compares it to if the spacing of 1.73km for ERAs is introduced. In this scenario the difference to the before case is an astonishing 183.98 increase in risk. Again it shows if the option for more ERAs is used the risk drops to 167.91%.

M1 Junctions 30 -35a Fatalities

AA research finds there have been five fatalities on a 16 mile stretch of the M1 between September 2018 and December 2019.

There are two fatalities that we know of on the section J32 to 35a.

1st December 2019 Jason Mercer, Alexandru Murgeanu –

The section of the M1 where the fatal crash took place, between J32 and J35a (near J34), was converted between January 2015 and March 2017, and cost £106m.  It was reported that the drivers had been swapping insurance details after a collision when they were struck by a lorry.

Other fatalities on M1 north of Nottingham.

7th June 2019 Derek Jacobs – 22nd March 2019.  Charles Scripps (78) died 30 days later (j30-31).

Nargis Bashir – 9 September 2018     The 62-year-old was a passenger in a vehicle that broke down on a stretch of the northbound M1, around one mile north of Woodall Services (j30 -31) near Sheffield, on Sunday night.

Both she and the driver got out of the car at around 9.40pm, South Yorkshire Police said. But some 16 minutes later, a black Mercedes E-class hit their Nissan Qashqai, which then hit the victim, officers believe. A Peugeot 407 and a Volkswagen Golf were subsequently involved in collisions with both the Mercedes and each other.

Edmund King, AA president, said: “This report is yet more damning evidence that the higher risks of more live lane stops if emergency refuges areas were further apart was known at the time.

“It seems incongruous that for a mere 1 to 2 % increase in cost of the scheme that six extra emergency refuge areas were rejected. What price can you put safety?

“The families of those who have died on this stretch of motorway will obviously question whether those extra emergency refuge areas would have given the drivers a better chance of getting out of live lanes.

“The government must take responsibility and accept that smart motorways in their current guise are unsustainable. We welcome the suspension of schemes but need clarity on what actions are proposed to give the public more confidence.”

*Article Source

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