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Sun November 28 2021

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Smart motorways advocate becomes chief road safety adviser

4 days A prominent advocate of removing hard shoulders from motorways has been made chief road safety adviser at National Highways.

Nick Reed
Nick Reed

Nick Reed, who used to work at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), will advise National Highways’ directors on how to realise its ambition for ‘zero harm’ on England’s motorways and major A-roads by 2040.

He led human factors and driver behaviour research at TRL for 13 years before becoming head of mobility R&D at engineering firm Bosch. He is a visiting professor at the University of Surrey.

At a coroner’s inquest earlier this year Highways England (as National Highways was then called) asserted that it had ‘no duty of care’ to road users. Despite this – and despite significant evidence to the contrary – it tells us that “safety is National Highways’ number one priority and we always work to make the strategic road network safer”.

Highways England introduced so-called smart motorways without stranded vehicle detection technology and with refuge areas much further apart than they were supposed to be, demonstrably taking short-cuts with safety to save time and money.

From 2017 to 2019, the number of miles of motorway without a hard shoulder increased from 172 miles to 204 miles. Deaths on these motorways increased from five in 2017 to 15 in 2019.

Nick Reed told a House of Commons transport committee inquiry earlier this year that “smart motorways are no less safe than the safest roads on the network”. He said: “There are many reasons why the smart motorway approach makes sense.”

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However he is critical of the lack of technology that was always meant to be intrinsic to the smart motorway programme roll-out.

“Without the permanent presence of a hard shoulder, it is vital that obstructions on smart motorways are detected and that responses are instigated as quickly as possible,” he said. “This includes closing affected lanes but also reducing speed limits and deploying Highways England traffic officers to help manage the situation. Whilst there is CCTV coverage and traffic monitoring technologies to support this, it is surprising that stopped vehicle detection (SVD) systems were not a mandatory component of smart motorways from day one.”

Despite being an advocate of appropriately equipped smart motorways, Nick Reed is against making any more of them – not on safety grounds, but environmental. He thinks there are too many cars on the road already.

He told the MPs: “My view is that the conversion of further motorways to the smart motorway format (beyond those where construction is already underway) should not proceed. At a time of climate emergency and with evidence mounting on the impact of poor air quality and noise on our health, we should focus our resources on ways to encourage those who have other options for any given journey should take them, with improvements and incentives to promote more sustainable modes of transportation.”

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said of Nick Reeds appointment as chief road safety adviser: "We’re committed to our vision of no one being harmed either travelling along or working on our roads. Being able to call on someone with Nick Reed’s experience will make a real difference in our capability to deliver that promise."

Professor Reed said: "I am delighted and honoured to have been appointed to this new role. Throughout my career, my prime motivation has been to reduce the harm associated with road transport. This is an exciting opportunity to work with industry, academia and innovators to support and challenge National Highways in delivering on its ambitious zero harm agenda."

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