Coventry West MidlandsGeneral

Advanced Traffic Management on the M42 – Drivers Putting Lives at Risk

40MPH Speed Limit SignIt is my opinion that lives are being put at risk since driving on the hard shoulder has been allowed. Details of the scheme which allows driving on the hard shoulder is available at:M42 Motorway, Active Traffic Management (ATM) – Driving on the Hard Shoulder.

I’ve been a supporter of the scheme, which has greatly improved my drive to and from work. Whilst the hard shoulder is in operation then the traffic flows much better than it did during congestion before and has become my route of choice (whereas before I would often try alternative routes to avoid the M42).

So why am I now saying that it is unsafe?

  • It is not due to a technology problem, although there were some problems with the one of the gantries and a unit was not working these all appear to be working
  • It is not due to a lack of monitoring by the Highways Agency
  • It is not due to a flaw in the concept, which could potentially make the motorway even safer

The problem is the same as most causes of Road Traffic Incidents, which is drivers endangering other road users by breaking the law and not following the road signs / instructions. Back to that age old joke “What’s the most dangerous component on a car? The nut behind the steering wheel”.

It is now allowed to drive up the hard shoulder, but ONLY when the overhead signals tell you that you can do so. There are a number of criteria that need to be met before cars are allowed to drive on the hard shoulder including: a certain amount of traffic must be flowing; the hard shoulder must be clear of any broken down vehicles or debris and the maximum speed limit must have been reduced to at most 50mph. Clearly some of these are very important safety factors. The main issue is that whilst most vehicles that breakdown should be able to reach one of the refuge areas, there are circumstances where that is not possible. In that case the hard shoulder would be closed to protect the broken-down vehicle and so that other drivers would not risk hitting the vehicle.

Although these conditions have not been met, there have been a number of cars that have used the hard shoulder of the motorway contrary to the overhead signals which clearly indicate a red cross to indicate that they are not allowed to drive down that lane.
The red cross signal is not a new sign, it’s certainly been in the highway code since I first started learning to drive. It means that you are not allowed to drive in that lane “Do not proceed further in this lane”. There were other changes made to the highway code to support the advanced traffic management, but a red cross has always indicated that you may not drive in that lane.

The highways agency seam to have monitored the situation and this morning they reinforced the signal by using the text boards to display “Hard Shoulder for use in emergencies only”. So now the combination of the red cross and the text message certainly removes any risk of misunderstanding, but still cars were driving down the hard shoulder. These drivers are not just breaking the law, and putting the advanced traffic management pilot in jeopardy, but they are risking their lives and the lives of anyone else that may need to use the hard shoulder in an emergency. I have some sympathy with drivers that may occasionally exceed the speed limit and get caught on a speed camera, but this appears to be intentional driving on the hard shoulder putting lives in danger.