24 August, 2020   By: Kirsty Petrides

Perth has recently become home to WA’s very first Smart Freeway.

The new system has been put in place on a 13km stretch of the Kwinana Freeway, between Farrington Road and the Narrows Bridge, and aims to improve incident response, reduce congestion and even cut down travel time for Perth drivers.  

But how will a stretch of road achieve all that, and what does this new system mean for Perth drivers? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is a Smart Freeway?

According to Main Roads, a Smart Freeway is a regular freeway but with added technology known as Intelligent Transport Systems, or ITS. These systems use in-road sensors, detection radars and CCTV cameras to monitor traffic conditions and adjust them in real time - for instance, changing speed limits when needed, using ramp signals to make merging easier during busy periods, and opening and closing lanes if necessary.

All these factors aim to improve traffic flow, which ultimately leads to less congestion and less time spent sitting in your car.  

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Why do we need it? 

According to Main Roads, the volume of cars entering the Kwinana Freeway northbound at Canning Highway each morning is so large, it exceeds the capacity of the freeway, resulting in the  ‘stop-start’ traffic conditions lasting up to three and half hours. Infrastructure Australia has also found that congestion added 32 minutes to the commute of a vehicle travelling the length of Kwinana Freeway in the morning.  

Who else has Smart Freeways? 

Smart Freeways are already being used around the world, including in the USA, Asia, Europe and the UK. They’re also already in place in most of Australia’s eastern states.   

What do I need to know? 

If you regularly use the Kwinana Freeway between Farrington and the Narrows, here is what you can now expect to see: 

  • Overhead electronic signs to open and close lanes, and to change speed limits when needed to respond to incidents;
  • Electronic message boards to provide you with information about the conditions ahead; 
  • Traffic lights at some on-ramps to improve traffic flow and make merging onto the freeway easier and safer;
  • Incident detection systems to detect vehicles stopped on the Smart Freeway and in each of the six emergency stopping bays;
  • An extra lane and removed emergency lane between Canning Highway and the Narrows Bridge. This stretch of freeway was previously three traffic lanes with an emergency lane along the river. It has now been converted to four traffic lanes, turning the emergency lane into a live lane. This helps provide increased traffic capacity using an existing lane, but obviously also impacts what to do in a breakdown. 

These changes will of course take some time to get used to, and in the meantime, RAC has asked for ongoing monitoring to ensure they don’t impact our safety or our ability to move around our city.

If there's no emergency lane, what should I do if I break down?

The Kwinana Freeway will have six emergency stopping bays, one every 500 to 700 metres. If you break down and can safely pull over into one of these bays, do so carefully. From there, use the emergency phone (each stopping bay is equipped with one) to call the operations centre, or call them directly from your own phone on 138 138. The emergency bays are monitored 24/7 by staff in the centre, so they’ll already know you're there and in need of help. From there, the operations centre team can organise help.

Can RAC come to my rescue if I'm in an emergency stopping bay?

Yes. If you have pulled over into an emergency bay and its safe for RAC to attend to you, you can call Roadside Assistance; however you will still need to call the operations centre to let them know your breakdown situation. Alternatively, when you call the operations centre, they can transfer you through to RAC if they deem it safe and suitable.

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What if I break down and can’t get to an emergency bay? 

If you break down in a live lane and cannot get to an emergency bay, the Smart Freeway system will kick into gear. The Intelligent Transport System will detect you’ve broken down, and the overhead sign will close the lane you’ve broken down in by marking it with an X to prevent traffic banking up behind you, and automatically reduce the speed on neighbouring lanes to keep you safe. It’s a similar process to the one used on the Graham Farmer Freeway, or most other traffic tunnels.

Its important to stay in your car, keep your seatbelt on and put your hazard lights on. Once they detect you’ve broken down, Main Roads Incident Response will attend to move you to an emergency bay or tow you off the freeway, depending on the lane location of your breakdown. From there, you can call RAC Roadside Assistance and we can fix your vehicle at a safe location. 

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How does this impact my Roadside Assistance?

It doesn't really. The only difference is that not having an emergency lane means there might not always be somewhere safe for RAC to safely stop and attend to your vehicle. So if you break down in a live lane, you will need to call the Main Roads Operations Line first before calling RAC. Once they've moved you off the freeway and onto a safe location, you can call RAC to attend to your car, so we can get you back on the road as soon as possible. 

This information is up to date as at 21 August 2020. For further information and updates, please visit smartfreeways.wa.gov.au

Got more questions about the Smart Freeway and your Roadside Assistance?

RAC members can call our free motoring advice helpline from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. 

Find out more