This week we take a look at different areas of the personal injury claims market including the use of smart motorways and the new whiplash reforms. These are issues which are current and relevant and, in the case of smart motorways, sometimes not as straightforward as you might assume.
How do smart motorways work?
Just recently there was a case involving the use of smart motorway services which saw a motorist seriously injured. Before we take a look at this case in more detail, it is worth reminding ourselves exactly how a smart motorway works and what you should expect.
What does a smart motorway do?
In effect the term “smart motorway” is a fancy term for a traffic management system. The aim is to increase capacity on existing motorways while reducing congestion. The use of smart motorways has also been tied in with environmentally friendly policies and reducing the need for further motorway lanes. There are two main ways in which a smart motorway will influence traffic:-
- The introduction of variable speeds to allow the strict control of traffic flow
- The use of the hard shoulder as an additional traffic lane
It is not difficult to see the potential issues with using the hard shoulder as an additional traffic lane. While supporters of smart motorways will highlight the fact this is not a 24/7 period of use, only when required, but is it that simple? We have seen a number of deaths on smart motorways which many experts believe could have been avoided.
What happens if you breakdown on a smart motorway?
Motorists today rightly have serious concerns regarding their safety in the event of a breakdown on a smart motorway. Normally, if your vehicle was in difficulty then you would pull onto the hard shoulder. Unfortunately, during periods when the hard shoulder is being used as an additional traffic lane this option is not available. You would either need to:-
- Depend on the smart motorway traffic management system detecting your breakdown/slowing traffic, which should then prompt a lane closure
- Make use of the Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs) which are regularly located to the side of the inside lane
At this moment in time ERAs are located up to 1.5 miles apart. The RAC believe that there should be ERAs no more than 1 mile apart. Despite attempts by Highways England, as one example, to educate drivers on using smart motorways, there is still uncertainty, concern and a lack of understanding.
Interesting statistics on smart motorways
Even though the first UK smart motorway was opened in 2006 many people are still not aware of them or how to use them. Some interesting statistics on smart motorways include:-
- 68% of those surveyed by the RAC back in 2019 felt removing the hard shoulder at any time was a serious danger
- Data from Highways England suggested that journey reliability has improved by 22%
- The same report highlighted a fall of more than 50% in the number of personal injury claims
It would appear there is much work to be done regarding the educating of motorists when using smart motorways. Even those who managed to pull into one of the ERAs were unaware they were supposed to ring the national highways authority to be rescued. Even if the lane closure system is working, we can only imagine the terror of breaking down in the middle lane as vehicles speed past you on either side.
Serious road traffic accidents
Unfortunately, there have been numerous examples of accidents on smart motorways which could/should have been avoided. Recently an individual broke down in a live lane with the camera system expected to pick up the incident. Smart motorway technology works by effectively closing lanes where there have been incidents, thereby avoiding further collisions and injuries. On this occasion, the driver in question was hit from behind by a lorry, as the lane was not closed, causing serious injuries.
This is not an isolated incident as there have been numerous similar accidents in recent times. Liability for these accidents has been discussed at length, with bodies such as Highways England coming under huge pressure from victims. It would appear that the rollout of much-needed traffic cameras has been slower than earlier indications. As a consequence, this may have compromised the overall safety of those using smart motorways.
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, recently commented on the smart motorway section of the M1 in South Yorkshire, suggesting it was a:-
Constant danger to anyone unfortunate enough either to breakdown in it or to be travelling along
If the actions, or inactions, of the various highways bodies across the UK are found to be in any way negligent this could open up the floodgates for personal injury claims. On the flipside, there seems to be a general consensus that smart motorways have the ability to work. Whether the highways authorities of the UK have the required resources to install the optimum number of cameras is another matter.
Whiplash regulations updated
Those who follow the personal injury claims market will be well aware of the ongoing change in whiplash regulations. These changes began back in 2015 although after a number of delays and false starts, the full range of new regulations should come into place on 31 May 2021. This is an area of the personal injury claims market which has been subjected to an array of fraudulent/dubious claims over the years.
Many criminal gangs have incorporated legal companies, garages and those willing to put themselves in danger to cause accidents. Changes on 31 May will see the introduction of a new portal through which all whiplash claims must be submitted. The claims will proceed on what is known as a “litigant in person” basis which effectively means that the claimant is representing themselves.
In theory, obvious instances of negligence which led to the whiplash injuries will likely be settled fairly quickly at minimal cost. It is when the insurance companies/defendants choose to oppose such action that we get into some difficulties. The legal profession has already made public its very strong views on the situation. Where legal representation is required they believe there should be a clause to reclaim legal expenses. At the moment, this will not be part of the new system.
Whiplash personal injury compensation
Under the new regulations, the minimum compensation tariff would be £235 for a whiplash injury which lasted up to 3 months. Under the old system, this type of injury may have attracted compensation up to £2,350. The highest award will be for injuries lasting between 18 months and 23 months, coming in at £3,910. Whiplash injury claims lasting more than 23 months cannot be processed through the new portal. Instead, the claimant would be forced to go through the Small Claims Court where the limit on compensation claims has been increased from £1,000-£5,000 for road traffic accidents. Unfortunately, there is still no provision for legal costs therefore claimants will be representing themselves. Is this fair?
Too many changes too quickly?
The UK authorities have undertaken numerous periods of consultation with the UK insurance industry and those representing the personal injury claims sector. We have seen many changes, positive and negative feedback and now it appears the government is ready to go. Have there been too many changes brought in too quickly? Time will tell………