Smart highway radar misses a third of broken down vehicles, regulator says | Transportation

Safety technology on smart motorways is not working properly, the regulator said, with one in three disabled vehicles missed – and three in four detected in England turning out to be false alarms.

National Highways has retrofitted Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) technology on all smart highways without hard shoulders, after heightened public and political concerns about safety.

However, the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), said the radar-based system lacked critical performance targets in every region.

False alarms were “significantly above the required maximum” of 15%, ORR said, at 75%, with five out of six alerts reported in the Midlands region found to be incorrect.

Meanwhile, in some areas, fewer than three out of five vehicles that had stopped were logged by the system. Overall, one in three stopped vehicles were missed.

And only one of the five national highway regions detected vehicles stopped within the target time of less than 20 seconds, with some taking more than a minute on average.

Smart Motorways, which allow all lanes to be used by traffic instead of having a hard shoulder, are statistically the safest type of road in Britain. However, the government committed in 2020 to an action plan to improve detection and refuge areas, after a series of deaths in painful circumstances where people in broken down vehicles were hit by others vehicles.

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

“Installing the SVD radar detection equipment earlier than planned reduced the duration of these outages more quickly, but it’s not working as well as it should.

“Although it is still too early to have reliable data, it is clear that National Highways urgently needs to improve its performance in this area.”

Motoring organizations said the report’s findings were concerning.

AA Chairman Edmund King said: “Vulnerable drivers have found themselves stranded in the most dangerous places, the traffic lane of a freeway. If there are doubts about the technology, then the highways are not smart and we should go back to proven methods.

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, said: “While it is good news that Stopped Vehicle Detection has been rolled out ahead of schedule, it will remain a concern that it has not yet been refined to do so much good. As it should be.”

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said: “Our roads are among the safest in the world, but every road death is a tragedy and we know we can do more to improve safety even further.

“The report recognizes the good progress we have made in a number of areas, including completing most of the actions of the Smart Highway Inventory Action Plan.”

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