Of speed and its limits

 

One of the key aspects of innovation is that you can't be afraid of (safety monitored) trial and error. Every bold step forward requires a background of missteps and not-quite-perfect attempts.

In the era of big data and computer learning, this process is happening all around us all the time with many systems evolving and adapting with use in real-time.

The news that Highways England will be carrying out a 'comprehensive review' of variable speed limits on motorways, after admitting that lower limits were not always correctly set, is to be welcomed.

”Local

Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan explained that 40, 50 or 60mph limits were being set as a preemptive measures when congestion was expected to mount on ‘smart motorways’ in England, using predictions about traffic levels.

He also admitted that there was ‘dissatisfaction’ among some motorists when the expected build-up failed to materialise, forcing them to drive slowly along free-flowing roads

As Transport Network understands it, part of this issue is likely to be because the system is working well to prevent the predicted congestion and part of it is because the system is, understandably, not quite perfect yet and speed restrictions are being triggered for the wrong reasons or maintained for too long.

Highways England has done the right thing in being open about this and the review is not just as good news for drivers, but good news for professionals and the systems they seek to refine.

Transport Network received a briefing on the background to this, which demonstrates some of the complexity that goes behind this issues.

Highways England traffic officers have control over a manual system on smart motorways, which have variable speed limits and the potential to open the hard shoulder for all lane running. These officers are directly responsible for core tasks like opening up a hard shoulder.

However there are also elements to the variable speed limits system that operate under an automatic algorithm system for regulating speed. Apparently anomalies on the network, such as a particularly slow moving car, can lead to the automatic system being triggered and unnecessary speed restrictions being put in place for unnecessary amounts of time.

Traffic officers are being trained in how to spot and override this, while the review could help evolve the background system and its algorithm.

Highways England did a piece of research and trial analysis looking at traffic flow on the strategic road network in the North East from February to March this year compared with February to March last year.

The research highlighted some of the issues with the algorithm system that need further development, hence the comprehensive review.

The review could take 12 months over this financial year and would take into account next February and March's data and hopefully provide enough information to tweak and finesse the automatic algorithm system for regulating speed.

However Highways England stressed this will be an ongoing process, as the government-owned company seeks to take away driver frustration as and when it arises.

Highways England executive director of operations Nick Harris said: 'Variable speed limits help keep drivers moving by smoothing the flow of traffic and improve safety for all road users. We have trialled an improvement to the signal settings to reduce the length of time these are set to help restore the national speed limit quicker to further improve journeys.'

One issue that needs to be considered alongside this is speed enforcement. 

Data obtained under by the Times under Freedom of Information showed that 72,348 people were fined on motorways with variable speed limits last year. This was almost double the number a year earlier and a tenfold rise in five years. Of those, two thirds of fines were imposed on motorists driving at 69mph or below, even though the national speed limit is 70mph.

This suggests that the majority of people are being fined for speeding when variable speed limits have been put in place. One potential solution to this is the introduction of average speed cameras along certain routes.

Average speed cameras do not currently operate on smart motorway sections, i.e. where the speed varies.

The system has worked well on the A9 in Scotland, and despite the usual initial concerns over over-zealous enforcement, the use of average speed cameras has been celebrated by Scottish ministers as a major step forward in road safety. 

It might make a nice irony if they also saw people fined less on English motorways.

Register now for full access


Register just once to get unrestricted, real-time coverage of the issues and challenges facing UK transport and highways engineers.

Full website content includes the latest news, exclusive commentary from leading industry figures and detailed topical analysis of the highways, transportation, environment and place-shaping sectors. Use the link below to register your details for full, free access.

Already a registered? Login

 
comments powered by Disqus
 
 
transport network jobs

CIVIL/STRUCTURAL ENGINEER

Torridge District Council
Up to £34,106 per annum plus relocation package up to £8,000
Looking for an experienced civil/structural engineer providing strategic feasibility and design advice to the authority Bideford, Devon
Recuriter: Torridge District Council

Highway Project Engineer

City of London
Up to £42,870 per annum (inclusive of London Weighting) depending upon performance.
The Department of Built Environment is responsible for the delivery of highway and drainage schemes within the City of London London (Central), London (Greater)
Recuriter: City of London

Graduate Transport Planner

Cambridgeshire County Council
£17,681 - £23,111
EXCITING GRADUATE OPPORTUNITY Cambridgeshire
Recuriter: Cambridgeshire County Council

Engineer Maintenance

Liverpool City Council
£32,233 - £37,107
Liverpool City Council are looking to recruit an Engineer Maintenance Liverpool, Merseyside
Recuriter: Liverpool City Council

Tree Services Programme Manager

Nottingham City Council
£37,107
You will be responsible for the management and maintenance of the Council's trees and woods, and will provide professional advice to others Woodthorpe, Nottingham
Recuriter: Nottingham City Council

Transport Coordinator

Camden London Borough Council
£32,473 to £37,670
We have an exciting opportunity for 2 highly customer focused Transport Coordinators to work in the busy Camden Transport Team. Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Highway Electrical Supervisor (Highway Maintenance)

Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council
£24,657 to £28,221
The post will support two Senior Lighting Engineers in leading and contributing to the delivery of the Street Lighting function for the Authority Bootle, Merseyside
Recuriter: Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council

Flood Risk Management Engineer

London Borough of Bexley
£31,353 to £36,876
We are currently seeking a Flood Risk Management Engineer who will have a lead role with the Flood Risk and Development Team Bexley (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Bexley

Senior Engineer (Traffic Signal Improvements)

Lincolnshire County Council
£34,106 - £38,052
This is a superb opportunity to lead, motivate and inspire our engineering team working on traffic signal improvement projects. Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Senior Engineer (Traffic Signal System and Operations)

Lincolnshire County Council
£34,106 - £38,052
This is a superb opportunity to lead, motivate and inspire our engineering team working on traffic signal systems and operations. Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Principal Engineer (Traffic Signals)

Lincolnshire County Council
£42,806 - £49,441
Do you want to lead, manage and motivate a team of engineers working at the cutting edge of technology? Lincolnshire
Recuriter: Lincolnshire County Council

Principal Nuisance Control Officer

Brent Council
£38,040 - £40,086 p.a. inc. + £4,800 shift allowance p.a.
Salary range
Recuriter: Brent Council

Rights of Way Search Officer - Highways Services

Bridgend County Borough Council
£7,188 - £7,327 per annum
We are seeking someone to assist in maintaining, developing and promoting the Definitive Map for Bridgend Bridgend (Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr)
Recuriter: Bridgend County Borough Council

Countryside Access Maintenance Officer - Highways Services

Bridgend County Borough Council
£12,644 - £13,015 per annum
We are seeking someone to assist in ensuring that the local rights of way network is protected, well maintained and enjoyed... Bridgend (Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr)
Recuriter: Bridgend County Borough Council

Principal Transport Officer

Cambridgeshire County Council
£37,320 to £40,198
The role will require close dialogue with developers and their agents and necessitate strong partnership working with District Councils... Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
Recuriter: Cambridgeshire County Council

Project Engineer

North Yorkshire County Council
up to £33,136
Are you a qualified Highways Project Engineer? Would you like to work in the famous James Herriot area of natural beauty? North Yorkshire
Recuriter: North Yorkshire County Council

Highways Officer Highways and Transport

North Yorkshire County Council
£28,2281 p.a.
Are you someone who is looking to progress their career with one of the most highly regarded highway services in the country? North Yorkshire
Recuriter: North Yorkshire County Council

Regional Strategy Officer

North Yorkshire County Council
Band 15 – up to £41,846
Are you an experienced Transport Planner? Do you have exceptional communication skills to build relationships within teams? North Yorkshire
Recuriter: North Yorkshire County Council

Area Manager

North Yorkshire County Council
up to £53,113 p.a. winter allowance plus 10% one off additional payment for exceptional candidates
Four Area Highway Managers roles available York, North Yorkshire
Recuriter: North Yorkshire County Council

Transport Planning Officer – Major Development Applications

Somerset County Council
£33,136 to £37,107
We have a fantastic opportunity in Somerset within our Highways Development Management team. Taunton, Somerset
Recuriter: Somerset County Council