Smart motorway mess shows better drivers are key to road safety

RED Driver Risk Management CEO Seb Goldin believes that technology has an important role to play in reducing crashes, injuries and death, but as the problems with smart motorways show, ultimately it is improved driving standards that will improve road safety.

Seb says: “The problems encountered with smart motorways vividly illustrate that we must not solely rely on technology to improve road safety.

“Undoubtedly road and in-car safety technology is a good thing, and it has saved motorists’ lives, but it is only part of the solution, and should not be entirely relied upon. These systems must go hand-in-hand with better driving standards and a recognition that roads are often chaotic, littered with unforseen events, and unexpected consequences.

“At RED Driver Risk Management, we work on the principle that technology is a fantastic safety net, but the driver should be sufficiently well-trained in the first place, so they don’t get into situations where they rely on in-car or on-road systems to rescue them.

“That’s because every driver reacts differently to an unexpected situation, but through training you can give them the tools to keep each of them safe. Technology doesn’t have that nuance. So, while autonomous braking might reduce the severity of an impact, for example, good training can teach the driver to see an incident forming and know how avoid it, or even prevent it happening at all.

“These ‘soft skills’ are the ones that help drivers avoid turning an incident into a major, life-threatening accident. By all means tick every box on the safety options list of a vehicle, embrace products such as telematics, and on-road systems that control traffic flow and speed, but do not assume technology is a panacea for road safety.

“If a driver has a mechanical problem with their vehicle on a smart motorway and gets stuck in a lane, the technology might well close that lane and slow traffic down. And the vehicle has various crash protection systems that might limit an impact should one then occur.

“But actually, the issue with safety on smart motorways is often a human one: drivers not following overhead instructions, not paying attention or getting stranded in lanes.

“Through training you can help drivers having a problem to be more skilled and knowledgeable. They might be able to spot a mechanical issue starting to happen at an earlier stage, and they have better awareness of the situation around them, buying precious time to move safely across lanes to a refuge point before they become immobile. And they know what to do next, in terms of keeping themselves safe when stopped.

“But also, you make the general driving community better through training, and so it’s not your driver who crashes into a stranded vehicle because they are racing up a closed lane, or not concentrating, or unable to anticipate what’s happening around them.

“As long as there are humans in a vehicle, they are the most important factor in improving road safety.”

RED Driver Risk Management’s 5 tips for safer smart motorway driving:

1-Understand the lane signage and be aware that lane usage can change on so called “dynamic” Smart Motorways. Be especially aware of the red X ‘lifesaver’ sign.

2-Increase the size of your ‘safety bubble’. This means increasing the distance to the vehicle in front but also keep out of blind spots of other drivers and look to position your vehicle with gaps either side to move into.

3-Make a note of the refuge areas while driving and in the event of a problem, plan to limp/coast to a motorway exit or refuge area wherever possible. This includes driving on a flat tyre to get to refuge. Then use the free SOS phone in the refuge.

4-If you can’t make an exit or refuge, at least try to make the inside lane (safely). If you can’t make the inside lane, stay in the car, keep your seatbelt on and use your hazard warning lights. Call 999.

5-If you come to a standstill in the inside lane, get you and the passengers out of the vehicle asap using the nearside doors and get behind the barrier ‘upstream’ of your vehicle.