RE: Smart motorways are dumb: Tell Me I'm Wrong

RE: Smart motorways are dumb: Tell Me I'm Wrong

Monday 20th April 2015

Smart motorways are dumb: Tell Me I'm Wrong

If smart motorways really are that clever Dan needs someone suitably intelligent to explain why



Driven on a motorway lately? Likely you have. Equally likely you've been trundling along one of the interminable sections of the network currently undergoing the lengthy transformation to 'smart' status. And counting the days until the endless 50 limits are cleared away and we'll be free to accelerate back to the heady heights of the 70mph national speed limit.

Remote control for motorways now a reality
Remote control for motorways now a reality
Only you probably won't be able to. Because if you've also used sections now fully 'smart' you'll know the reality is trigger happy gantry operators all too keen to issue speed limit slapdowns, seemingly on a whim. Enforced without mercy by their now fully operational HADECS 3 cameras.

The title of this series is 'Tell Me I'm Wrong' of course and I truly would like to be proven ill-informed about the future of intelligent traffic management. But as an end-user I'm frustrated and depressed.

First up, the motorway network is choked with these schemes which, by their nature, tie-up significant lengths of road, take a huge amount of time and cost an absolute fortune. I regularly toddle up and down the M1 to the folks back home and since that 20-mile stretch from Junctions 28-31 has been in place the journey time has increased - on a good run - by at least half an hour. Trundling along I have plenty of time to mull over the cost, estimated as up to ยฃ225m according to Highways England, and the end result. Which will probably still see me trundling along at 50mph when the damned thing is completed and the gantries are in operation, whether that's peak time or seemingly arbitrarily applied to an empty, after hours motorway.

Swing vote
At least the threatened 60mph limit on this section has been rejected after 90-plus per cent of respondents to a government consultation flicked the vees at the idea. And yet, in a control room somewhere, someone without this level of public scrutiny will still be able to enact it at the flick of a switch.

"You didn't listen did you, punk..."
"You didn't listen did you, punk..."
ยฃ225m on signs, lights and policing by camera at a time when flesh and blood traffic cops find their numbers slashed and meagre resources amalgamated and stretched over larger and larger areas. I was chatting with a friend in the business the other day and the picture sounded grim indeed. Easy as it is to pin three points on someone for doing 55mph in a temporary 50 from a control centre it takes boots on the ground to deal with the tail-gaters, the brake checkers, the texters or - in a case he mentioned - people openly swigging from bottles of vodka as they drive along.

The problem with smart motorways from a user's perspective is of credibility of the information and black and white enforcement that comes with them. "Safe roads, reliable journeys, informed travellers" is the Highways Agency slogan covering this programme but in my experience they're failing on all three. An IAM survey reveals 71 per cent drivers questioned are scared of breaking down on motorways where hard shoulders can alternate between safe refuge and live lane at the flick of a remote switch. Who can blame them - even when hard shoulders were unequivocally meant to be places of shelter people still managed to plough into stranded vehicles.

Here be dragons
Reliable journeys? Well, my M1 experience suggests 'reliably slower' would be the best appraisal of that one. And informed travellers? That only works if the information is pertinent, useful and reliable. I recently travelled for a quarter of the circumference of the M25 at an enforced 40mph with the promise of 'Animals on the road' to see nothing. Was it a single lost cat? A herd of migrating Wildebeest? May as well have said 'Here be dragons' for all the use it was, and yet there we were, cowed into a pointless low limit for 30 miles. Yesterday I saw 'Danger - oncoming vehicles!' on the M4. Pretty serious warning that one. Were there any? Go on, guess...

Disruption - and cost - is huge for 'upgrades'
Disruption - and cost - is huge for 'upgrades'
Same with the variable speed limits. Here I can understand the logic; it may be frustrating to cruise along an apparently empty motorway and be slowed to 50mph. But I'll accept that someone has the bigger picture and by regulating the traffic that's moving you can mitigate against that which is stationary, much as one would in a traffic jam. Unless you're one of those plonkers who believes no space greater than three inches should ever appear between bumpers.

But it's getting daft. The other day within the space of four gantries I went from NSL to 40 to 50 and back to NSL. For what? They were all in sight of each other and there was no broken down car, no obstruction or any other apparent reason. Just a load of people slamming on their brakes and trying to scrub off 30mph without collecting an Audi in their bootlid.

Duty of care
From a driver's perspective it doesn't take long to reach the conclusion the signs more frequently than not cry wolf, inevitably meaning the one time the warning might actually be pertinent you'd ignored it. If the lives of the people in that broken down car on the 'hard shoulder' depend on fellow drivers respecting a red cross on a gantry you have a duty to make sure the rest of the information you're presenting on them is credible too. If we're not careful people will quickly become blind to anything other than an arbitrary, camera enforced number surrounded by a red border. And end up crashing into an oncoming herd of Wildebeest while obediently sticking by the posted limit.

Cue stream of brake lights and frustration
Cue stream of brake lights and frustration
Funny isn't it? The powers that be are willing decimate traffic cop numbers while investing millions in this traffic policing by camera. And cause untold disruption as it's installed. And yet when Eric Pickles bans councils from using CCTV to issue parking fines and forces them to put wardens back on the beat he presents himself as a people's champion. "Today the government is taking urgently needed action to ban this clear abuse of CCTV, which should be used to catch criminals, and not as a cash cow," he said of the decision last year. Yet if you don't slam on the brakes the moment the gantry flashes up a reduced limit your NIP will be in the post before you've even got home, as happened to someone in the PH office on the M25 just recently.

Bring on those electronically leashed and autonomous cars I say. At least then we'll have someone/something else to take the points if it misses the fact the gantry above just randomly went from a 70 limit to 20 and didn't manage to slow up in time.

Photos: Highways Agency, via Flickr

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[Sources: Highways England, IAM, www.gov.co.uk]

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Author
Discussion

ManicMunky

Original Poster:

434 posts

89 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
As someone who travels the M5/M6 interchange a lot, the managed section has reduced the amount of time I spend stationary. So I'm all for them.

kambites

62,227 posts

190 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
I think the principle is sound, the implementation just tends to be poor.

grumbledoak

29,304 posts

202 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
As far as I can tell the theory is being tested as we speak and it is looking like bad news for the supporters.

nipsips

951 posts

104 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
If the goverment spent half as much money on driver education as they do stupid schemes like this the entire country would be a safer place.

Every single day I look at someone that is an accident waiting to happen. And that's just on my commute. And then there's the idiots that do have accidents. Someone genuinely told me the other day that they didn't have to give way to a car on a roundabout because they were there first. And someone reversing out of a parking space who thought that traffic coming along should give way to him. Or the person who pulled out of a T junction without checking left straight into a car who was overtaking a parked car.

I understand accidents happen but it kind of proves that all accidents are not as a result of speed! In actual fact I would say in the past two years I haven't seen many where speed is the only single factor. The one I see most regularly is tailgating, changing lanes, not giving way and parking incidents. It is in fact very rare that you can say - you were going to fast.

Personally I'm perfectly capable of sticking to a speed limit. No problem with doing so. But I do having an issue with having to go down to 30mph on the M25 for one gantry when the road is completely clear especially when you have aforementioned Audi 2 inches from your rear end.

Just my tuppence!

Flipatron

2,089 posts

167 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Shame the UK cant just man up and build more motorways.

Implementing this 'managed' motorway scheme is just fiddling at the edges.

tomjol

532 posts

86 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Hate the concept and many of the reasons behind it, but the only stretch I use regularly (M62 around Leeds) does genuinely seem to work.

The point about getting a NIP if the sign's just changed...from what I've read there is a (really rather generous) grace time, a quick Google returns this link:

Avon and Somerset Constabulary said:
There is a 1 minute ‘grace period’ following a change of speed limit being displayed on the AMIs during which time the HADECS cameras will not enforce the speed limit. This is to allow drivers enough time to safely adjust their speed so it is within the new limit if it is lower than the previous one.

Please note that the HADECS camera system may take test shots during its normal operation including during the 1 minute grace period. If your vehicle or another vehicle you see passing through the Smart Motorway is flashed it does not necessarily indicate that they have been recorded speeding.
I accept that the same principle may not apply to all forces - does anybody have more information?

Esceptico

4,881 posts

78 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Perhaps what we need is a journalist to do some investigating and speak to the people that operate the motorways/speed limits so we can understand what they are doing and why. Over to you Dan....

bernhund

3,529 posts

162 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
This is from my own perspective as someone who is on the road 6 days a week, but rarely on a motorway.
My recent experience with this set up is that the variable speeds seem to appear for no reason I can see. I travelled along the M4 to M25 J5 last week around 8:00-9:00pm and with very little traffic, was reduced to 40mph and 50mph for miles and miles regularly. What then happened was I put the car into cruise and watched people sail past us without a care in the world. Those who didn't, closed the gap behind us and I could almost feel the pressure to get out of their way. It all felt very unnatural to me as a driver and I was almost forced by others to pick up speed. I felt like I was that old man doing 40mph in the outside lane we've all been enraged by in the past! I had no idea where the cameras were, how they worked or whether I was going to get home no longer being able to legally drive any more because my licence had been wiped in one journey.
The truth is, I spent the majority of my journey trying to observe countless signs and restrictions instead of doing the most important thing of all...concentrate on driving safely.

bubney72

862 posts

122 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Cash cow, no doubt about it.

Defcon5

5,670 posts

160 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
I use the m62/m1 daily and its a lot better now its smart.

bernhund

3,529 posts

162 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
bernhund said:
The truth is, I spent the majority of my journey trying to observe countless signs and restrictions instead of doing the most important thing of all...concentrate on driving safely.
Same applies in towns now too. I'm so busy trying to hold onto my licence and wallet because of the countless signs, humps, no left turns (for no apparent reason), 20mph limits, bus lane cameras and God knows what else, that safe driving itself has become second priority. You cannot concentrate on looking out for the hazards anymore. I wonder how many children have been knocked down because the driver was reading a road sign instead of actually looking at the road?

Dan Trent

1,866 posts

137 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Esceptico said:
Perhaps what we need is a journalist to do some investigating and speak to the people that operate the motorways/speed limits so we can understand what they are doing and why. Over to you Dan....
I'd be up for that and hope to explore opportunities if offered. I did a couple of shifts on the beat with Northants traffic and it was fascinating and exploded a lot of assumptions. Maybe the same in a control centre would do the same. If there is anyone in the business drop me a line and as per basis of the piece you can tell - and show - me I'm wrong.

Cheers,

Dan

kambites

62,227 posts

190 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
nipsips said:
If the goverment spent half as much money on driver education as they do stupid schemes like this the entire country would be a safer place.
Whilst that's undoubtedly true, it's not particularly relevant to the topic because smart motorways are not an attempt to improve safety, they're at attempt to improve traffic flow.

Max_Torque

17,014 posts

186 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Unfortunately, the days of drivers simply "looking where they are going" and adjusting their speed as appropriate are LONG gone..........



(not to mention the system is open to massive abuse with the simple expedient of fitting false plates or driving a stolen car)

saaby93

29,060 posts

147 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Gaz. said:
Now she may well be trolling, but the responses were real - 375 replies, half of which said "it's ok honey, you weren't speeding so you did nothing wrong and the police won't want to talk to you"
What type of person likes being called 'honey'?

Funkycoldribena

7,379 posts

123 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
saaby93 said:
What type of person likes being called 'honey'?
Every woman on Facebook.

Quhet

1,981 posts

115 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Flipatron said:
Shame the UK cant just man up and build more motorways.
Where would you build them? I can't really think of anywhere where a new motorway would solve everything

saaby93

29,060 posts

147 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Funkycoldribena said:
saaby93 said:
What type of person likes being called 'honey'?
Every woman on Facebook.
ok hehe
Isn't 'honey' ever so slighly patronising and equated with 'dimwit' ?



Edited by saaby93 on Sunday 19th April 12:09

Jayyylo

985 posts

116 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
Dan Trent said:
Esceptico said:
Perhaps what we need is a journalist to do some investigating and speak to the people that operate the motorways/speed limits so we can understand what they are doing and why. Over to you Dan....
I'd be up for that and hope to explore opportunities if offered. I did a couple of shifts on the beat with Northants traffic and it was fascinating and exploded a lot of assumptions. Maybe the same in a control centre would do the same. If there is anyone in the business drop me a line and as per basis of the piece you can tell - and show - me I'm wrong.

Cheers,

Dan
There was a thread here (maybe a year ago) with someone who worked in a control centre that explained the system in detail, including MIDAS etc and he offered to give a few PHer's a tour to see the operation. It was an enlightening thread with a lot of questions answered so worth searching out.

EDIT: Everyone should read this thread, 'Pedestrians in the road' before they post idiotic, ill-informed nonsense on this one.

EDIT2: Dan, if you go visit Gafferjim in the control office take a camera and make a feature piece for PHTV.

Edited by Jayyylo on Sunday 19th April 12:31


Edited by Jayyylo on Sunday 19th April 13:18

Wills2

18,503 posts

144 months

Sunday 19th April 2015
quotequote all
They are about nothing but control and money, they don't make the roads safer and they are damn right dangerous when being installed (witness the weekly carnage on the Leeds section of the M62 whilst they were being built)

Having traffic tightly bunched together alongside and in front is inherently dangerous but these layouts often give you no choice you cannot make room or manoeuvre just sit there staring at the speedo.

I too have suffered the "slow down incident!" No there isn't, animals in the road! No? etc....total farce.

As for the placement of additional speed cameras on top of the speed cameras that are already there, well that tells you all you need to know.