M42 Not as Smart as I Assumed

Friday, November 11th, 2016. 8:41pm

Some motorways in the UK now have “hard shoulder running” or a “dynamic hard shoulder”. Under certain traffic conditions people are permitted to drive in the hard shoulder to increase the capacity of the road and reduce congestion. Some new, or remodelled, stretches of motorways have no hard shoulder at all and operate “all lane running”.

In areas where “hard shoulder running” is used there are sensors and cameras monitoring the hard shoulder. I had expected that as soon as a vehicle stopped in the hard shoulder when it is being used as a running lane the lane would be instantly closed.

A Highways Agency leaflet on hard shoulder running states:

If an incident occurs the control centre operator and automatic system will change the signs and signals to alert road users to the conditions ahead

When at 14.37 on the 11th of November 2016, on the M42 North just before junction five, I saw a car broken down in the hard shoulder but the supposedly smart motorway signs showing a sixty limit, rather than an “X” for closed over the hard shoulder I presumed the system was broken.

Shockingly it appears there wasn’t a fault, it’s just the technology being used doesn’t do what’s needed and what I expected. A report by MPs on the Transport Committee dated June 2016 states the M42 scheme cost £9m per mile to construct, but notes flaws with the “MIDAS” technology that has been installed saying:

MIDAS (Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling) is a system which uses inductive loops set under the carriageway to detect stopped traffic. This data is then used to set signals on the motorway. This technology is limited by the fact that it detects passing traffic only, and is therefore unable to detect solitary stopped vehicles.

I’m appalled the system our elected reps threw £9m/mile on doesn’t work and isn’t safe.

The report says new RADAR based technology has been created :

Highways England told us that a new stopped vehicle detection system has been created, which seeks to address the limitations of MIDAS by use of radar technology. Highways England intends to include it in all future all lane running schemes, and it will be retrofitted to
existing schemes.

While reading the report I was shocked to read the CCTV cameras which are regularly spaced along the hard shoulder where it can be used as a running lane are monitored manually, rather than automatically, with the report stating:

CCTV coverage on current all lane running schemes is intensive, and some areas
are doubly covered by cameras. However, the effectiveness of this is limited by the impossibility of watching every area at once—there are simply not enough control centre personnel to watch every stretch of motorway at once

There’s not much sign of our elected reps using smart, modern, technology there. I feel conned, the “smart motorways” moniker appears to be a sham.

Until the system works properly, with risks reduced so far as technically practical, its expansion should be suspended, and its use limited to when speeds are very low.

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