Safety concerns over plans to scrap hard shoulders

Plans to introduce ‘all-lane running’ on 300 miles of UK motorways have been slammed by the Transport Select Committee over safety fears.

Under the proposals, hard shoulders would be turned into permanent driving lanes. The Department for Transport sees it as an extension of the growing ‘smart motorways’ system, where the hard shoulder is used during peak times.

All-lane running is already in place on sections of the M25, M6 and M1.

As quoted by, Committee chair Louis Ellman MP told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Our concern is about the very dramatic change which is being proposed in schemes called ‘all-lane running’, where there will never be a hard shoulder, where there are far fewer emergency refuges, and where there is less information on the motorway to tell motorists just what is happening.”

There are also concerns about the ability of the emergency services to reach the scene of an incident when there is heavy traffic and no hard shoulder to use.

As a regular user of the all-lane running stretch of the M25, I’d say it’s an extremely mixed bag. The lack of places to pull over is unnerving and, though there are plenty of matrix signs, the information they display is often inaccurate.

The biggest problem, though – and it applies to smart motorways, too – is that no-one knows how to use it. It only seems to be drivers like myself who know what they’re doing, or those who join the motorway from the inside lane of a slip road, that actually use the former hard shoulder.

When traffic is light, running is a bit easier. But when it’s busy, that stretch of the M25 is just as bad as it used to be. It’s not that there’s more traffic. It’s because, as I say, the vast majority or British drivers don’t know how to use a motorway, much less a new type of motorway. Much better driver education is needed.

The Committee’s report on the all-lane running proposals said it is “perverse for the DfT to continually lower the standard of the smart motorway specification, while presenting such changes as a logical next step.” And added: “The DfT should not proceed with major motorway programmes on the basis of cost savings while major safety concerns continue to exist.”

Motorway traffic is expected to increase by as much as 60% over 2010 levels by 2040. Clearly something needs to be done, but when successive governments have been idealogically opposed to building new roads, we will probably only the easiest, cheapest solution, not the best solution.

By Only Motors

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