Could more be done to reduce motorway accidents?



The UK’s first motorway (known as the Preston Bypass) first opened on 5th December 1958 and had its first casualty just four hours later!


Suffice it to say, that whilst motorways are generally considered to be among our safer roads, when accidents do happen they tend to be more severe given the much higher speeds involved.


With a predicted 60% increase in traffic by 2040, the Government have now been forced to look at how best to increase capacity without widening the road or compromising on safety.  It’s no easy feat.


In this blog we take a look at a few facts and figures to consider whether more could be done to reduce the number of accidents on the UK’s motorways.


What sort of volume do motorways experience?


According to the UK road safety charity, ‘Brake’, in the year ending December 2016 car traffic increased by some 0.7% to achieve a record high of 249.5 billion vehicle miles. During the same period, HGV traffic had grown by 2.8% overall, equating to 17.1 billion miles.


The charity’s campaign director, Gary Rae advised that the figures should “…give cause for alarm”, going on to state that: “These rises are not sustainable.  Provisional estimates suggest that both ‘A’ roads and motorways experienced the highest level of vehicle traffic recorded; motorway traffic increased by 2.1% to 67.9 billion vehicle miles in 2016, continuing a long-term trend of increasing motorway traffic over the past six years … The figures are heading the wrong way and we’re heading for gridlock. The government needs to get a grip and outline what it intends to do.  Back in 2015, during Road Safety Week, we highlighted the lethal consequences of too many vehicles on our roads. The situation is becoming markedly worse.”


This certainly doesn’t make for encouraging news in terms of general road safety.


What are the Government doing to reduce motorway accidents?


2006 saw the introduction of “Smart Motorways”, which was initially trialled on the M42 to help reduce motorway accidents.


Managed by Highways England (previously known as the Highway Agency), Smart Motorways uses the latest technology to actively manage the general flow of traffic – even to the extent of being able to change signs and speed limits.


There are three types of Smart Motorway, namely:


  1. Controlled motorway – which uses multiple lanes, variable speed limits and a hard shoulder for use in emergencies only.


  1. Hard shoulder running – which again uses variable speed limits but also has a hard shoulder which can quickly be opened up to traffic during peak times to help ease congestion.


  1. All lanes running – these have variable speed limits, no hard shoulder and emergency refuge areas every 2.5km.


Smart Motorways also enable regional control centres to both monitor and control traffic which can include the despatch of emergency assistance, when required.


What else can be done to reduce the number of accidents?

From 2018, learner drivers will be able to have lessons on the motorway and this has certainly been a welcome development since current legislation doesn’t permit drivers on the motorway without a full valid driving licence.


Commenting on the announcement, which was made by the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, the road safety charity ‘Brake’ commented: “Young drivers are involved in a high proportion of crashes that kill and seriously injured because of inexperience and the tendency of some to take risks.  Improved training before and after getting a licence is essential to improving road safety.”  He then went on to say: “Rather than allowing learner drivers on the motorway, there should instead be a requirement for all newly-qualified drivers to receive mandatory lessons, including on the motorway, once they’ve passed their test. There needs to be much wider reform to the learning to drive system, including a minimum learning period and restrictions for newly-qualified drivers, such as a late-night curfew.  This graduated driver licensing approach has helped dramatically reduce road casualties in countries including Australia, and could save lives here in the UK too.”


In addition to this, s.89(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 introduced tougher penalties for speeding with a maximum level 4 fine for motorway offences.  This has again been welcome news and drivers can now be fined 150% of their weekly income as opposed to 100%.


In 2015, speeding was attributable to some 23% of crashes, with four in ten of UK drivers admitting that they regularly speed.


As a driver, how can I help reduce accidents on the motorway?


As we’ve already seen, there are a number of key contributory factors which can very quickly cause motorway accidents.  However, here are 10 top ways within which you can help reduce the number of current accidents:-


  1. Know what to do in case of emergency


Whilst it might well be tempting to pop the bonnet to try and fix a broken down car, the hard shoulder isn’t a safe place to be and your presence on it will almost certainly attract the attention of other drivers, who then become distracted and have the potential to lose concentration.  Instead, you should put your hazard lights on, exit the vehicle from the passenger side and use either your own mobile or a motorway phone to call for assistance. Once help is on the way you should sit well away from the vehicle – ideally on the motorway embankment. Never, ever be tempted to sit in your vehicle.


  1. Take advanced driving lessons


If you don’t feel confident driving on the motorway then don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Most driving instructors will be more than happy to provide additional training for motorway driving.


  1. Don’t hog the middle lane!


It’s something that frustrates a lot of fellow drivers – people hogging the middle lane!  Always remember that the middle lane is for overtaking ONLY and shouldn’t be used to simply cruise along.  Not only does it slow the general flow of traffic but you can now be fined for doing it too, so there’s simply no excuse.


  1. Plan your journey in advance


If you’re using the motorway then it’s certainly advisable to do a bit of homework before you set off.  Whilst sat nav systems are great in principle, they very often don’t give much notice of a pending turn off and can even become quite confusing when there are several different options within a close vicinity of each other.  This often leads to drivers becoming stressed and swopping lanes without sufficient indication.


  1. Stick to the speed limit


Speed limits are there for a reason so don’t be tempted to exceed them.  Not only will it prevent you from getting a hefty fine, but it’ll also mean that you’re less likely to be involved in an accident.


  1. Think about your stopping distance


If you’re travelling in adverse weather conditions, then always pay careful attention to your stopping distance.  The Highway Code states that stopping distances can double in the wet so be sure to leave an extra margin for error and increase the distance between the vehicle in front.


  1. Be safe – be seen


If visibility is poor – either due to rain or fog – then remember to put your lights on to make yourself clearly visible to other road users.


  1. Remember the two second rule


Always ensure that there’s a gap of at least two seconds between you and the car in front.  You can work this out quite easily by simply counting the amount of time it takes you to pass a roadside marker (such as a lamp post), or motorway chevron.  If weather conditions are poor then increase this to at least four seconds to give yourself plenty of room to react and brake.


  1. Take a break


If you’re driving for any period of time – and particularly on the motorway – always take a break of at least 15 minutes every couple of hours or so.


  1. Check your vehicle


Last, but by no means least, make sure your vehicle is properly maintained so as to avoid any accidents (read more on compensation for car accidents and compensation for motorcycle accidents here if you are unfortunate to be involved in one), such as tyre bursts – which can be especially lethal on the motorway given the increased speeds involved.