Ron Alalouff

Freelance journalist

Author Bio ▼

Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
March 19, 2020

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CCTV video analytics trial to improve safety and response times of smart motorways

CCTV video analytics technology is being trialled to automatically detect vehicles that have come to a stop on motorways without a hard shoulder, a new Department for Transport (DfT) report reveals.

The move follows the publication of a parliamentary report which slammed the way so-called smart motorways are operated, and a BBC Panorama programme which revealed that there have been 38 deaths on stretches of smart motorway in the last five years.

CCTV-SmartMotorways-20The term ‘smart motorway’ describes three types of motorway design: controlled motorways which use variable speed limits and overhead signs to manage traffic flows; all-lane running where the hard shoulder is permanently used as a running lane and which have emergency stopping areas every 0.3-1.6 miles; and dynamic hard shoulder motorways where the hard shoulder is used some of the time as a running lane. The idea is that if someone breaks down, motorway control room staff can ‘close’ the affected lane using gantry signs and thereby isolate the breakdown for further assistance.

The DfT report, published last week, outlines measures for improving the safety of motorways without a permanent hard shoulder. It includes a pledge to complete the installation of radar-based stopped vehicle detection (SVD) – which automatically triggers signs on overhead gantries and alerts control rooms of stopped vehicles enabling immediate action to be taken – on all-lane running stretches of motorway within three years.

The report also reveals that Highways England has been running a small-scale trial using video analytics to automatically detect stationary vehicles, and will be carrying out a larger trial of this technology using existing smart motorway cameras. Cameras may also be used for automatically detecting violations of and enforcing the ‘red X’ lane closure signs, while cameras themselves will be upgraded.

Video analytics technology is widely available and can be run on the edge (camera) or on a server, probably at significantly lower cost than the radar systems already deployed at £150,000-£200,000 per kilometre.

When asked whether radar is the preferred technology over CCTV analytics, a Highways England spokesperson told IFSEC Global: “Radar technology has been the only ‘proven’ technology to detect stopped vehicles in all conditions. However, we are testing alternative solutions, such as CCTV-based systems, which could provide more options for detecting incidents on our roads.

“CCTV cameras could potentially become another system for detection of stopped vehicles on any road with existing CCTV coverage. However, we need to ensure that they are capable of doing so in all conditions, regardless of the weather, light and visibility.”


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The DfT also said it was abolishing dynamic hard shoulder stretches of motorway, as they were too confusing for motorists.

According to a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Roadside Rescue and Recovery, the SVD system should have been fitted to the entire all-lane running motorway network. At present, only 25 miles of the more than 400-mile all-lane running network has been fitted with SVD. Response times to live lane breakdowns by Highways England traffic officers average almost 18 minutes.

The biggest indictment of the implementation of smart motorways came from former roads minister Mike Penning, who signed off the scheme in 2010. He said that the implementation of all-lane running had been carried out “with a shocking degree of carelessness. Smart motorways today do not resemble the designs I signed off as roads minister. And Highways England appear to have casually ignored the commitments they made to the House of Commons in 2016. That is not acceptable.”

The parliamentary report goes on to say: “It is clear from the evidence received that Highways England do not currently have the resources and systems in place to respond to live lane breakdowns in a fast enough manner, to ensure the safety of motorists…As well as the widespread implementation of stopped vehicle detection, there needs to be an increase in the number of Highways England traffic officers on patrol at all times across the strategic road network.”

SVD is currently being used on the M25 and is in construction on the M3.

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