PACTS and the AA have raised safety concerns about Government plans to permanently open more than 100 miles of hard shoulder on Britain’s motorways in an attempt to reduce congestion, according to the Telegraph.
The Telegraph says that the Highways Agency believes that the hard shoulder can be turned into a permanent lane without putting drivers at risk. Under the plans six motorways will be widened to four lanes, forcing motorists who break down to move their cars onto the grass verge or refuge areas.
The Highways Agency will also more than double the distance between refuges, which are currently about 1,000 metres apart. Other changes include the removal of the majority of overhead gantries which inform drivers of variable speed limits. In their place will be new signs, which only cover the new nearside lane.
Work is scheduled to start next year at eight locations including stretches of the M25, M1, M60, M62, M3 and M6.
The Highways Agency says it will be monitoring the motorway by CCTV, enabling it to intervene swiftly by closing down a blocked lane and redirecting traffic until the broken-down vehicle can be recovered.
Commenting on the proposals, the AA said: “Drivers who have endured hours of being stuck in traffic jams may breathe a sigh of relief, but that will soon turn to fear if they break down in the middle of the night and have no hard shoulder to retreat to.
“The plans are being pushed through with only scant consultation. Solving congestion on the cheap poses real road safety risks. While active traffic management worked well and was popular with drivers, this idea is a huge gamble.”
Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said: “I think that the new specification could be very misleading to motorists. The current gantries extend across all four lanes. It is very clear to a driver in the outside lane that a speed limit applies to him or her.
“The new proposal for a pole extending over just the hard shoulder could all too easily lead drivers in the other lanes to think that the speed limit only applies to that lane and not across the entire carriageway.”
A spokesman for the Highways Agency said: “Through experience of operating the M42 and M6 schemes, we have produced proposals where the hard shoulder is converted to a running lane on a permanent basis and less infrastructure is needed on the existing route of future managed motorway schemes.
“We are working with road user organisations to develop the detail for these proposals. We are confident that once these proposals are fully developed they will provide the additional capacity required, without compromising overall safety.”
Click here to read the full Telegraph report.