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January 19, 2023

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Road safety

‘Improvements made in road safety – but targets not yet met’, says government officials

Safety on the Strategic Road Network (SRN) in England has been greatly improved but is not yet meeting expectations, government officials have said.

The Government’s Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has said it will take further action if National Highways does not fully meet the safety performance targets set.
Smart motorwayThe regulator released the findings of their first annual assessment of the SRN, which includes the operation and effectiveness of the end-to-end safety system on England’s smart motorways.

It said National Highways is on course to achieve its overall safety target and has met its Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) technology installation targets, but still falls short of expectations.

The report praised the progress made to halve the number of people killed or seriously injured by 2025, compared to a 2005 to 2009 baseline – a key safety target.
In 2021, 1,857 people were killed or seriously injured on the SRN – a 12.3% (261) reduction compared to 2019, but an increase of 29.6% (424) compared to 2020, when traffic levels were affected by the COVID 19 pandemic.

Against the target, the latest figure is a 42.1% reduction against the 2005 to 2009 average baseline of 3,206 people killed or seriously injured per year on the SRN.
But the ORR is concerned that the number of casualties could increase if, as expected, traffic levels rise further in 2022.
The report also praised the quicker-than-expected installation of SVD technology – radar-based technology on every all lane running (ALR) smart motorway where the hard shoulder has been permanently converted to a live traffic lane.

National Highways had SVD technology in place on every existing ALR smart motorway by the end of September 2022, six months ahead of its original March 2023 milestone. However – the actual performance of SVD is falling short of the performance requirements the company set itself.

False detection rates on ALR smart motorways across all National Highways’ regions are substantially above the required maximum – the company’s specification states that false alerts may not constitute more than 15% of all alerts but performance ranged from 63.8% to 83.5% across the regions.

highways england award motorwayThe ORR’s report said the company has had limited opportunity to apply lessons learnt and is seeking rapid improvements to the SVD technology to achieve the required performance levels by the end of June.

ORR Chief Executive John Larkinson said: “Our previous work on smart motorway data has shown that these roads are as safe as the motorways they replaced but the number of live lane breakdowns are higher.

“Having the SVD radar detection equipment in place sooner than planned has helped to reduce the duration of these breakdowns more quickly but it’s not working as well as it should.

“While it is still too early to have robust data, it’s clear National Highways needs to urgently improve its performance in this area.”

The regulator is scrutinising the company’s progress and will take further action should it not appear to be on track to achieve the required improvements. The report said it is too early to draw firm conclusions on the success of smart motorways yet – reducing the frequency and duration of live lane stops and improving driver perception of safety on smart motorways.

However, ORR notes that National Highways has achieved substantial improvements in attendance times for traffic officers.

In September 2022 for the first time, National Highways achieved a national average response time of 9 minutes and 49 seconds against the target of 10-minutes where the existing spacing between safe places to stop in an emergency is more than one mile.

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