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Highways England reveals problems of drivers running out of fuel

Highways England is highlighting the congestion issues caused by vehicles running out of fuel on motorways, at the same time as a pilot is underway to test technology that could help reduce the problem.

Highways England (HE) is urging drivers to check their fuel levels before setting out on journeys, after figures revealed that an average of one driver a day runs out of fuel on the Manchester smart motorway. In the past 12 months, 354 drivers have let their tanks run dry on the 17-mile (27km) route between junction 8 of the M60 near Sale and junction 20 of the M62 near Rochdale, which the agency is currently upgrading to ‘smart motorway’ status. Electronic message signs are being used at key points on the motorway to remind people to fill up, and drivers are being advised that there are petrol stations within half a mile of most motorway junctions, as well as at Birch Services.

Since March 2015, there have been 4,694 breakdowns on the smart motorway route around Manchester. Alongside the usual electrical and mechanical failures, the free recovery service also attended 24 cases of wrong fueling. To reinforce the message, HE has released CCTV footage showing a driver running out of fuel on the M60, and a second video demonstrating how quickly congestion can build up behind a stationary vehicle, to show the impact stoppages can have on other drivers.

HE program manager Stephen Hill said, “Running out of fuel is the easiest cause of breakdown to avoid, and some simple planning can save drivers the hassle of coming to a halt on the motorway, causing disruption to hundreds of other drivers. We’re asking all drivers to help us reduce the number of incidents within the roadworks section by checking their fuel when there is still an opportunity to top up, and checking their vehicle is roadworthy. Sitting at the head of a queue of unhappy drivers while you wait to be rescued, is not an experience that people wish to repeat.”

At the same time, sophisticated electronic variable message signs (VMS) from Swarco Traffic are playing a critical part in a new high-profile trial to provide drivers with real-time fuel prices along a stretch of the M5 motorway between Bristol and Exeter. The new signs, manufactured to order in less than three months, are designed for maximum legibility for motorists, with each character measuring 16.5in (42cm) in height, to meet the exacting standards laid down by HE and the relevant EU legislation. The VMS integrate with a bespoke system that monitors pump prices and enable them to be updated within one minute of any change. They also integrate with a second independent database to ensure the prices are verified on a daily basis.

Swarco’s sign control system is hosted in a data center for maximum reliability and availability; communication with the signs is via a secure VPN to ensure the prices cannot be tampered with. The trial will run until October 2017, during which time HE monitoring will determine whether increasing the transparency of fuel prices at motorway service areas has an impact on driver behavior, including the number of stops made at service areas, the number of fatigue and fuel related incidents, and on fuel pricing.

April 14, 2016

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