The AA is so concerned over the safety of smart motorways that it has instructed its recovery crews not to stop at breakdowns on the controversial roads.
A former AA patrol of the year confirmed to the BBC that crews are instructed to head to a safe area nearby and wait for Highways England to move the member’s car there before working on it.
Tony Rich told the BBC’s Inside Out North West that some drivers are stuck on the all-lane running roads for as long as 17 minutes before being recovered as they are out of sight of cameras set up to monitor for breakdowns.
Explaining how patrols were told to deal with call-outs to smart motorways, he said: “‘We’ll contact the customer to say ‘we can’t stop where you are’.
“We will contact Highways England, go to a safe area and wait for the vehicle to be delivered.”
The revelation comes after figures showed nine people were killed on the smart motorway network last year and it was revealed that systems designed to detect broken down vehicles can stop working in heavy traffic.
AA president Edmund King said; “Being stuck in a live lane is incredibly dangerous. The official advice is keep your seat belt and hazard lights on and dial 999.
“It is not safe for breakdown organisations to recover vehicles unless the lane is closed and has a physical presence sat behind the casualty vehicle.
“This is either the police with blue flashing lights or Highways England traffic officers with red flashing lights.
“This highlights the severity of breaking down in a live lane and further emphasises our calls for double the number of emergency refuge areas.
“Providing drivers with more places of relative safety would reduce the risk of vehicles being stuck in a lane of fast moving traffic.”
Smart motorways are designed to ease congestion by using the hard shoulder either as a permanent extra lane or as an additional lane during busy times. Drivers are expected to try to reach an emergency refuge area, which can be up to 1.5 miles apart, if they experience a problem.
Figures from Highways England, which oversees the smart motorway network, show that more than 19,000 vehicles broke down in a live lane over the last two years – equivalent to 26 every day.
Different stretches use different systems to detect broken-down vehicles but documents obtained by the Sunday Times have revealed that these don’t always work.
According to a letter written by Highways England’s chief highway engineer, Mike Wilson, the stopped vehicle detection system used on the M25 and planned for other smart motorways can be overwhelmed by too much traffic. He admitted that the system generates an “unmanageable” number of false alarms during periods of high traffic volume or when traffic is crawling at low speeds.
This article first appeared on the Sheffield Star