Britain’s motorists not optimistic when it comes to autonomous vehicles

More than half (55 per cent) of motorists think driverless cars will only be in used in 10 or more years’ time, despite tests having already begun on UK roads.

Britain’s motorists are highly sceptical over the future use of driverless cars according to new research by Compare the Market.

In its Road Ahead research series looking at the future of driving, it was found that only 55 per cent of people expect driverless cars to be in use in the next 10 years.

According to a survey of more than 2,000 British motorists, 80 per cent are worried about the safety of driverless cars. This concern follows extensive discussion about the suitability of driverless cars, which can be susceptible to cyber hacking and crashes, on UK roads.

Recently, a government-backed consortium announced that it was beginning its first tests of driverless cars carrying passengers on the UK’s roads for the first time.

Beyond the issue of safety, drivers question the wider benefits of the introduction of driverless cars. Only one third (35 per cent) think driverless cars would result in safer roads, while only a quarter (24 per cent) believe that the technology would result in reduced insurance costs.

The research follows previous analysis by in January 2018 which found that 61 per cent of people would never buy driverless cars while 63 per cent said that they were bad for society.

Dan Hutson, head of motor insurance at Compare the Market, said: “While driverless car technology continues to progress quickly, manufacturers have a big job to do convincing the world that they are safe. There have been a number of high-profile incidents showing flaws in their security – such as when academic researchers hacked into a Jeep and remotely controlled its electronic control system – and last year saw the first ever fatal crash involving a driverless car. Driving has never been a completely safe endeavour but handing control over to a machine seems like a step too far for many motorists currently.”

Car free zone being considered in some parts of the Lake District

The National Trust is looking at banning car use in some parts of the Lake District, particularly around Scafell Pike.

With popular areas of the park suffering from congestion, the charity is in talks with the Lake District National Park Authority and Cumbria Highways about the possibility of creating a car-free zone near Scafell, the tallest peak in England.

Traffic congestion is a problem in popular areas of the park, which attract tens of millions of visitors every year, with figures from 2015 suggesting that about 82% use a car to get to their destination. In particular, the village of Seathwaite, at the foot of Scafell Pike, can at times turn into a parking lot, as people leave their car there to go and stand atop the Lake District’s highest mountain.

This, acknowledges the National Trust on its website, ‘causes access problems for people who live [in the village], including farmers and potentially emergency vehicles.’

The charity has long encouraged visitors to be sensible about parking: ‘If you turn up and find that you can’t easily park at Seathwaite without being confident a fire engine or tractor and trailer could easily pass, please find an alternative place to park,’ it recommends on its website.

Other suggestions include looking for alternative places where visitors can leave their car, such as the Trust’s own car parks at Seatoller and Borrowdale, where money raised through fees goes towards protecting the local landscape, or taking public transport from Keswick.

However, the issue may need a more drastic solution and the charity has been working ‘behind the scenes’ with the Lake District National Park Authority and Cumbria Highways to try and find one. One of the possibilities under consideration is a car ban in Seathwaite and, potentially, in other busy areas within the park.

‘We need to address traffic issues in the national park,’ the National Trust general manager for the North Lakes, Thomas Burditt, told The Times. ‘Car-free zones are an option we are considering. We are in discussions with residents, the Highways Agency and the parish council.’

The proposal has been welcomed by local people (who would still be able to continue using their car under the plans) but ramblers told the Times the introduction of car-free zones would be ‘a big blow’.

Other ideas that have been mooted include encouraging people to access the park via electric bikes, boats and buses.

The National Trust will present possible options to solve to the congestion problem at a conference tomorrow and looks set to open a consultation on it after Christmas.

Cycling towards a cleaner city: Balfour Beatty Living Places pedestrianisation scheme

The project, delivered by the Highways Service Partnership (HSP), a close collaborative relationship between Balfour Beatty Living Places and Southampton City Council, aims to allow better pedestrian access through the City.

Brian discusses how the Highways Service Partnership designed and developed a hierarchy of bicycle infrastructure to meet Southampton’s growing population demands in a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly manner.

The plan for the Cycling Strategy involves developing the Southampton Cycle Network (SCN) routes which will create Cycle Freeways, Cycle Cityways, Quietways and Active Travel Zones as a holistic programme to increase the number of people cycling in Southampton. Balfour Beatty Living Places are using their highways expertise to design and deliver the cycling routes, having recently successfully completed the SCN1 route from Totton and the New Forest through to Southampton Central Station, which provides cyclists with segregated cycle lanes.

Speaking of the Cycling Strategy, Brian said: “The success of the strategy is testament to the HSP’s collaborative nature, good planning, a strong transport policy foundation and a proven track record in delivering projects on time, and to budget.”

Balfour Beatty Living Places will now turn its attention to delivering the remainder of the ten-year Cycling Strategy which, on completion, will make Southampton a “true cycling city” and eliminate traffic to improve the living environment of residential areas in the City.

Decision on dualing major Somerset route delayed until there is a new Government

Somerset residents face a further wait over the future of the A303 because of the general election being called.

Voters will go to the polls on December 12 to elect a new government, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson hoping to be returned with a majority so he can pass his Brexit deal.

But December 12 was also the date when residents would be told whether the A303 between Podimore and Sparkford would finally be dualed.

But because of campaigning rules, this announcement now can’t happen until a new government is in place – which, depending on the result, may not happen before Christmas.

The A303 runs across the width of Somerset and stretches through to Dorset and Stonehenge in Somerset.

During election campaigns, the government cannot announce any new policies or spending unless it is a large-scale emergency.

The practice, known as purdah, is designed to stop the political parties currently in power from using their position to sway the electorate into voting for them at this crucial stage.

Highways England, which is responsible for England’s motorways and major A-roads, put forward detailed plans for the dualling which were scrutinised at a series of public hearings earlier in 2019.

The Planning Inspectorate submitted its final report to the government in June after the hearings concluded, with the transport secretary having six months to make a final decision on whether it should go ahead.

But the Department for Transport confirmed on Monday (November 4) that no announcement either way would be made until after the general election.

A spokesman said: “The decision on the A303 dualling will now be postponed until the appointment of a new government.”

The stretch of the A303 in question lies mainly in the constituency of Somerton and Frome, with a small section crossing over into the Yeovil constituency.

Both seats are currently represented by Conservative MPs with large majorities – David Warburton (22,906) and Marcus Fysh (14,723) respectively.

The election campaign will officially get under way when parliament is dissolved on Wednesday (November 6), and will last for around five weeks.

Highways England propose plan to make roads more visually appealing

Riding for a long time can be tiring, especially when you’re looking at the same kind of landscape for hours on end.

This is the case with many of the UK’s busiest roads and according to statistics from the Department for Transport, fatigue led to 67 deaths and 479 serious injuries in 2016.

To combat fatigue, Highways England have proposed a ten-point plan to make the roads more visually appealing and environmentally stable. Previous projects have involved using traditional dry stone wall to strengthen the connection between the A590 and the Cumbrian landscape and a bridge that provides a safe crossing for small animals on the A556 in Cheshire.

By creating better vistas, it’s hoped that motorists will be able to maintain their focus for longer. Chief highways engineer, Mike Wilson, has given his opinion on the plan. “Creating different vistas for people to consider is a way of stimulating the road user. You might argue they’re safer because of it.” Wilson was asked about the possibility of drivers being distracted by the scenery and he responded by saying “they should be focused on the road. But fatigue is a challenge for road users.”

The kind of structures that make the environment more interesting include the Angel of the North in Gateshead and the Willow Man in Somerset. The angel was built in 1998 and represents the heritage of the area, while the Willow Man was crafted in 2000.

Director of the RAC Foundation, Steve Gooding, has also mentioned that fatigue needs to be reduced. “Driving long distances in heavy traffic can be a monotonous business, and that’s not good for helping drivers stay awake and alert. It is encouraging to see Highways England building the journey experience, including the views along the way, into its design thinking to give us better, safer travel.”

Fatigue is one of the biggest dangers for motorcyclists and drivers, so the plan proposed by Highways England is certainly an interesting one. There is still the possibility that more structures could lead to distraction because a rider may be more focused on what they see rather than the traffic around them.

Electric cars have too many hang-ups for almost half of Brits

Electric cars are the next big push for the motoring industry as manufacturers release new models in a push to crack the market.

Electric car sales may be on the rise but British drivers are still unconvinced by the new technology. Research shows less than half of UK motorists are considering making the jump to buy an electric vehicle with many concerned about whether the infrastructure is ready for the move.

The Lex Autolease study shows just 49 percent of drivers would consider getting an electric car at all.

A total of 17 million drivers still need convincing before the Government’s planned target for all new cars to be zero-emission by 2040.

However, the survey shows just 61 percent are aware of the Government’s zero-carbon ambitions despite being just two decades away from revolutionary change.

Ashley Barnett, head of consultancy at Lex AutoLease said: “The Government has pledged to eradicate the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which will mean reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, generating more renewable energy and, crucially, ensuring the mass-market adoption of electric vehicles.

“The way we live our lives – and the way we travel around – will have to change radically, but a significant number of drivers remain reluctant to get on board.”

Over half of motorists surveyed blamed concerns about running out of battery as one of the main barriers to accepting the new technology.

A total of 40 percent of drivers said they believed the electric car was too expensive as 22 percent confirmed they were not sure about the different types of vehicle available.

The survey revealed infrastructure was one of the key reasons why UK motorists have rejected electric cars.

A massive 50 percent said they were concerned about access to charging facilities for electric vehicles.

Just over one-third said they had an off-street parking bay where a charging port could be fitted.

A Government funding boost will see a further 3,000 rapid charging bays installed across the UK by 2024 as part of a massive £70million Government fund.

The scheme will see a total of 5,000 chargers across the UK as part of a bid to get Britain’s roads ready for electric vehicles.

However, 38 percent of those surveyed revealed they would still be worried about how long it would take to charge vehicles compared to the simplicity of petrol stations.

Ashley Barnett said: “The upfront price of electric vehicles is often higher than petrol or diesel equivalents, but that gap is closing all the time – and the savings available throughout the lifetime of an electric vehicle mean it’s likely to cost less in total.

“Where drivers have access to charging facilities at home or work, electric vehicles can fit seamlessly into everyday life.

“For lower-mileage users who mainly drive in urban areas, there’s simply no reason to delay enjoying the benefits of electric.”

More than 40 percent of those surveyed said they understood the appeal of cheaper fuel and limited road tax costs as one quarter said they liked the idea of low maintenance charges.

Electric cars are exempt from paying expensive road charges such as London’s Congestion charge and ULEZ.

Recent data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders revealed electric car sales were on the up.

Battery Electric Vehicle new car registrations were up a massive 122.1 percent year-on-year compared to figures from 2018.

The Hybrid electric vehicle sakes were also up 15.3 percent year-on-year as sales of mild hybrid electric vehicles (MHEV) rocketed.

Diesel MHEV machines saw sales surpass 19,000 in a staggering 949.5 percent increase on last year’s data.

Design contract for £1 billion A66 transformation up for grabs

A £45 million contract to design the £1 billion transformation of the A66 northern trans-Pennine route is now open for tenders.

Highways England is developing plans to fully dual the remaining single carriageway sections of the A66 which links the M6 at Penrith in Cumbria and the A1(M) at Scotch Corner in North Yorkshire.

The project, a key commitment in the Government’s Road Investment Strategy, is focusing on dualling the remaining 18 miles of the 50 mile route – providing quicker, safer and more reliable journey for thousands of drivers including a significant proportion of hauliers travelling to and from northern ports.

The formal notice for the A66 Preliminary Designer, Construction Technical Advisor and Supervision tender process was published today (Friday 25 October) in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

Highways England senior project manager Matt Townsend said:

“The A66 northern trans-Pennine project will be one of the biggest infrastructure investments ever delivered in the north of England and we want to attract and work with the best suppliers to help deliver and realise the benefits that dualling the remaining single sections of the A66 will bring.

“This is the first contract we’ll be awarding as the project moves towards the design and statutory processes phases. The successful supplier will work closely with us to help deliver the best design for the transformation of this trans-Pennine route.”

A study into improving northern trans-Pennine routes was commissioned as part of the first 2015 to 2020 Road Investment Strategy period and completing the dualling of the A66 was chosen as the option to take forward.

In July 2017 Arcadis Consultancy (UK) Ltd was appointed to help Highways England deliver initial options phases as part of the company’s project control framework (PCF). This included delivering a two month consultation across the route on the different options for the remaining single carriageway sections of the A66 route.

With the design tender process moving forward, Highways England will be unveiling the designs for dualling the remaining sections in its preferred route announcement (PRA) next Spring. This will be followed by publication of the report from this year’s consultation and it’s hoped construction work can start before the end of the second, 2020 to 2025, Road Investment Strategy period.

The current timetable is:

  • August 2019 to May 2020: Analyse consultation feedback and prepare consultation report and other materials
  • Spring 2020 – preferred route announcement (PRA)
  • Spring 2020 – publish consultation report
  • Summer 2020 – stage public information events on the PRA

Highways England has launched a brand new video setting out the processes it follows when developing and delivering schemes of the scale of the A66 northern Trans-Pennine improvement. The A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project is known as a Nationally Significant Project (NSIP) and means Highways England must apply for a Development Consent Order (DCO) to proceed with the project.

Oxfordshire CC £218m fund sees a boost for road improvements

A Contract for millions of pounds of funding to help roads in Didcot cope with new housing has been signed, but worries about a housing plan were aired as it was agreed.

As Oxfordshire County Council discussed signing a contract for £218million for new infrastructure around the planned Didcot garden village on Tuesday, October 15, Robin Bennett, a green councillor and cabinet member from South Oxfordshire District Council spoke to give his support to the project.

Mr Bennett addressed the district council’s intention to scrap its local plan, a decision taken out of its hands by the minister for housing, communities and local government, Robert Jenrick, 24 hours before its meeting on Thursday, October 10.

Mr Bennett said: “Officers from our council have worked closely with OCC officers to explore alternatives that would enable infrastructure funded by HIF to proceed regardless of what happens with South Oxfordshire’s emerging local plan.”

He added: “Reading your officer recommendation today, it appears to me that it is entirely in the secretary of state’s gift whether this project now proceeds, and from his correspondence to us, it seems that he strongly wishes it to do so.”

The district had sought assurance earlier this year, that if it withdrew its local plan then it would not affect the HIF bid.

OCC cabinet members criticised the district council’s intent to scrap the plan.

Lorraine Lindsay-Gale said it had implications for the whole county.

There was also criticism as SODC’s intent to scrap the plan would scupper new cycle routes and walking paths.

The cabinet also heard from Emily Smith, who spoke on behalf of Vale of White Horse district council to support the HIF agreement.

OCC’s cabinet agreed to sign the contract, and council chiefs will now finalise the details of the plan with the government agency for housing, Homes England.

Four projects in Didcot are set to be funded by a £234million budget, with the majority coming from the £218million fund, and the rest from developers.

They include a new Didcot Science Bridge from the A4130 over the Great Western railway line into the Didcot ‘A’ Power Station site; widening the A4130 from Milton Interchange to the new Science Bridge by making it a dual carriageway; a new river crossing and link road between the A4130 at Didcot and A415 Culham; and a Clifton Hampden Bypass from the A415 at Culham Science Centre and B4015 north of Clifton Hampden.

State-of-the-art innovation set to change the way the UK’s busiest motorway is cleaned

A custom-designed, vehicle-mounted vacuum litter picker has been developed and built by Balfour Beatty Plant & Fleet in partnership with Connect Plus Services (CPS), the company which operates and maintains the M25 on behalf of Connect Plus and Highways England.

The innovative new design enables maintenance crews to collect litter of various sizes, shapes, and weights from the roadside with the use of a handheld vacuum pipe secured to a custom-built machine, mounted on a truck bed. The litter is then deposited into a compartment within the vehicle, and any dust contained through a specialised filter.

The litter picker was designed and built by the partnership, working collaboratively with CPS’ litter picking crews to ensure the new device improved the workers’ health and safety when working on the UK’s busiest motorway, whilst also improving the rate of litter picking.

Through the implementation of the vacuum pump, which pulls litter in with suction as opposed to teams manually collecting the waste, the machine will increase the speed at which litter can be collected whilst reducing the amount of time workers spend on a live highway environment. In addition, the new vacuum pump also removes the chance of crews coming into contact with hazardous or unpleasant substances.

Following a successful trial on the M25 network, the vehicle will now form a crucial part of Connect Plus Services’ fleet.

David Neal, Managing Director of Connect Plus Services, said: “We are delighted to have worked with Balfour Beatty Plant and Fleet to develop this innovative piece of equipment. In 2018 we collected over 50,000 bags of litter from the M25 and its surrounding roads, which requires extensive resource and expert planning to ensure the network remains clean and clear, with minimal impact on the travelling public.

“The M25 is one of the busiest and most strategic road networks in the UK. Through continuous innovation, we can reduce the time our highways maintenance teams spend litter picking on live highways networks, as we strive to create the safest working environment and better journeys for all.”

Andy Ormerod, Managing Director of Balfour Beatty’s Plant and Fleet Services business, said: “With health and safety at the heart of everything we do, we are pleased to have been able to provide an innovative solution to our workforce which reduces risk and increases productivity.

“Our expert capabilities have allowed us to design and build a state-of-the-art piece of equipment, taking into consideration challenges currently being faced by those working on highways projects. Embedding innovation into our projects allows us to offer a solution focused outcome for our clients.”

Nicola Bell, Highways England South East regional director, said: “Hundreds of thousands of people use the M25 each day, and litter is a real problem. This innovative vehicle will help roadworkers to clear litter much more quickly than picking it by hand, and will also free up time for other maintenance and safety priorities – and also our work together with Connect Plus to encourage people not to drop litter in the first place.

“Litter on roads can cause a hazard to drivers, our workers and wildlife, so I’d urge everyone to keep a bag in their car which they can use for rubbish, and then put it in the bin when they get home to improve the experience of everyone who drives on or lives near the M25.”

With safety a key priority, litter picking crews will receive in-depth training to use the machine and measures will be taken to ensure a safe environment when in action.

M23 Smart Motorway upgrades near Gatwick Airport get underway

Work to turn part of the M23 around Gatwick into a ‘smart motorway’ has reached a ‘significant milestone’, Highways England has said.

The multi-million-pound project aims to reduce congestion and help speed up journeys on an 11-mile section of the motorway.

Work on the upgrade started in June last year, and the first stage will be open for traffic next spring, Highways England said.

David Macleod, Highways England’s project manager for the M23, said: “We are making good progress on this vital upgrade for the M23. Already, we have strengthened and prepared the hard shoulder for use as a new traffic lane and are starting to install the new technology infrastructure along the motorway verges.

“Work continues on the hard shoulder, but we are also switching to the central reserve by installing a new concrete barrier, which is far safer, stronger and longer lasting than the metal one it replaces.

“The M23 is a crucial part of the UK strategic road network connecting Crawley and Gatwick Airport to the M25 motorway, routes into London and the rest of the UK.

“This marks a significant milestone for this strategically and economically important scheme and we’re on schedule to open the improved motorway to traffic by spring next year.”

Construction on the motorway will start switching from the road’s verges and into the central reservation, so the project team can continue to work to add extra lanes and new congestion-busting technology.

The switch will be carried out with a series of closures starting next week, Highways England said.

The southbound M23 will be closed between junction 8 at Mersham and junction 10 for Copthorne overnight for four nights from Monday (October 21), between 9pm until 5am each night.

A fully signed diversion will be in place via junction 6 Godstone of the M25, A22, A264 and join the M23 at junction 10.

Drivers are being advised to allow extra time for their journeys if they are using the road while diversion are in place, and to drive with extra care as the road layout changes.