Smart Motorways - good but in need of investment
Although a highly contentious topic, Smart Motorways are an undeniably important part of the UK's infrastructure. They provide flexibility to a network that needs greater investment. Chris Yarsley, Policy Manager for Road Infrastructure at FTA, spoke to The Logistics Point about what the industry wants to see, why Smart Motorways are needed and how we can make them safer.
‘The freight industry does not hold the position that Smart Motorways (SMs) are inherently unsafe,’ says Yarsley, acknowledging that there were some serious incidents on the SMs network For logistics companies, SMs boost journey reliability by increasing capacity and limiting congestion. Journey times are also improved which allows companies to plan their travel better.
The latest government report on the network in the UK has found that motorways - smart or not - are the safest network. More accidents happen on other types of roads. ‘Our members have noticed that many times other drivers do not understand how to use the SMs,’ Yarsley explains.
‘During our last discussion, members have told us there needs to be better education, better enforcement of the rules.’
The government has taken into account these recommendations and is now going to look into improving police access to the Red X ANPR cameras; making sure drivers understand what they need to do; and what technology needs to be implemented so the system detects when there is a vehicle stopped in a live lane. According to Yarsley, emergency areas should be located at sensible distances; something which is being considered by the UK government. FTA is constantly updating its members on what is happening with SMs, but it wants to engage with public policies as well and help the wider society understand the positives of the network.
‘We are in favour of sensible road infrastructure,’ Yarsley says, explaining why FTA does not consider SMs a long-termsolution. ‘They should not be seen as another way of building infrastructure and we should also look at developing new infrastructure where it is needed,’ the expert adds.
‘We do not want SMs to disappear.’
FTA is discussing with the government the lack of suitable overnight parking spaces. ‘There are so many issues with that, as drivers do not have access to suitable facilities. This creates problems with the local authorities and population,’ Yarsley says.
The organisation believes that improving facilities could be one way to fight the driver shortage issue, as the profession will become more attractive to other workers.
The expert discusses the challenge posed by the public’s disapproval of large infrastructure projects like the one at Heathrow. ‘Generally, the decision on where to place facilities is made by the local authority,’ Yarsley explains. ‘Unfortunately, they do not see these developments as necessary, because not much comes from them to the local economy. The position of a facility might be very strategic for the country but at a very local level it might deliver little positives.’ FTA is actively working with local authorities to make them aware of the need for logistics facilities Where the UK is lagging behind in infrastructure is the South East and the Midlands.