We’ll soon be able to drive on hard shoulders nationwide, after Transport secretary Ruth Kelly today announced plans to expand the scheme.The announcement follows a trial scheme on the M42 motorway in the Midlands, where the hard shoulder can be driven on once traffic reaches a set volume.Once traffic flow reaches over 5000 cars an hour, an automatic system illuminates signs pointing motorists onto the hard shoulder, at a maximum of 50mph. The use of the extra lane is said to have eased traffic flow, cutting journeys on the northbound carriageway by 27 per cent.The Department for Transport (DfT) claims that fuel consumption was also cut in the M42 trial, by four per cent, and vehicle emissions by up to 10 per cent. We’re slightly confused about those figures, given that fuel consumption and emissions are directly linked.While objectors claimed that driving on the hard shoulder would make the motorways less safe, according to the DfT 84 per cent of drivers said they felt confident about using the hard shoulder, and that the personal injury accident rate has fallen from 5.2 per month to 1.5 per month on this section of the M42.There are also new ‘breakout’ sections – extra lay-bys next to the hard shoulder – and the hard shoulder can be closed to traffic if necessary.The hard-shoulder scheme will initially be expanded to include the M6 around Birmingham, at a cost of around £150million. A feasibility study into expanding the scheme further will also examine options such as high-occupancy lanes, heavy vehicle lanes and through vehicle lanes. "New traffic management techniques, like hard shoulder running and varying speed limits, offer practical and cost-effective solutions to cutting congestion and I now want to explore whether other motorways could benefit from similarly creative measures," said transport secretary Ruth Kelly.