Motorway ‘all lane running’ schemes that open the hard shoulder to moving traffic have been subject to heavy criticism from the Transport Select Committee.
At the top of the committee’s list of concerns is the safety of motorists who break down and would normally use the hard shoulder as a refuge from motorway traffic.
The committee views the scheme as a cost-cutting measure, but says: “The Department for Transport (DfT) should not proceed with a major motorway programme on the basis of cost savings while major safety concerns continue to exist.”
As part of the ‘smart motorways’ upgrade, the aim of the scheme is to reduce congestion on the increasingly strained road network, by providing a fourth lane in place of the hard shoulder.
Criticisms were also raised about other effects of the plans, with MPs asking where emergency vehicles would go when congestion would otherwise prevent them from getting through.
The committee, which is made up of 11 MPs, from the Labour, Conservative, and Scottish National Parties, reacted strongly to the proposals, describing it as “perverse for the DfT to continually lower the standard of the smart motorway specification, while presenting such changes as a logical next step.”
During the committee’s research, the AA also conducted a survey that found 59% of motorists would be nervous about driving on a motorway without a hard shoulder, and 85% thought hard shoulders helped to make motorways safe.
All lane running schemes are planned to be introduced on around 300 miles of UK motorways, on which the hard shoulder would be permanently converted into a live traffic lane.
The RAC has also responded to the DfT’s proposals, with chief engineer David Bizley saying: "Motorways are our safest roads but, because of the speeds at which vehicles travel on them, the consequences of an accident can be severe in terms of loss of life and serious injury.
"We need the extra capacity that smart motorways will deliver, but we must not put the safety of our motorways at risk by allowing insufficient time to prove the safety of new designs.”