The Government should not proceed with motorway ‘all lane running’ schemes while major safety concerns exist, the Transport Committee has warned.
In its report on the issue published today (30 June) the Transport Committee says that while Highways England may ‘consider the matter settled’, the Transport Committee believes that ‘the argument has not been won’.
Under ‘all lane running’ the motorway hard shoulder is used as a live lane of traffic. Previously, the hard shoulder has only been used at peak times or to deal with congestion.
The Transport Committee rejects the Government’s notion that this is an ‘incremental change’ and a ‘logical extension of previous schemes’.
Instead, it concludes that the permanent loss of the hard shoulder in all lane running schemes is a ‘radical change and an unacceptable price to pay for such improvements’.
Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Transport Committee, said: "The permanent removal of the hard shoulder is a dramatic change. All kinds of drivers, including the emergency services, are genuinely concerned about the risk this presents.
“It is undeniable that we need to find ways of dealing with traffic growth on the strategic network. But all lane running does not appear to us to be the safe, incremental change the Department wants us to think it is.
“While ‘smart motorways’ have existed for years, this is fundamentally different. Government needs to demonstrate that all lane running schemes do not make the road any less safe than the traditional motorway with a hard shoulder.
“The Government has a model which has worked. The scheme on the M42 has a track record of safety and performance but subsequent versions have gradually lowered the standard specification.
“The most recent incarnations of all lane running have less provision for safety measures than original pilot schemes.
“The Committee heard significant concerns about the scarcity, size and misuse of emergency refuge areas. We also heard about worryingly high levels of non-compliance with Red X signals.
“Levels of public awareness and confidence about using these motorway schemes are unacceptably low.
“Government needs to demonstrate considerable improvement in this area, including more emergency refuge areas, driver education and enforcement, before the Committee will endorse the extension of a scheme which risks putting motorists in harm’s way."
In 2015, the DfT forecast that traffic on the strategic road network would increase by up to 60% by 2040. The Government sees smart motorways as a way of addressing this growth without incurring the costs of traditional motorway widening.
Plans are in place to permanently convert the hard shoulder into a running lane on around 300 miles of motorway. Highways England has a programme of 30 all lane running schemes to the value of around £6bn over the next nine years.
The RAC has welcomed the report and has used it to again express its concern over the use of the hard shoulder as a permanent running lane.
David Bizley, RAC chief engineer, said: “Whilst supporting smart motorways as a cost effective and relatively rapid way of increasing motorway capacity, the RAC has repeatedly expressed concerns about the latest design which turns the hard shoulder on motorways into a permanent running lane.
“We therefore welcome the Select Committee report and are pleased that this influential group of MPs has concluded that the decision to adopt ‘all lane running’ on all future smart motorways may be premature.
"The safety of motorists must come first and therefore new designs need to be trialled for sufficiently long to demonstrate their safety before they are introduced more widely."
However, the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) says all-lane running motorways are no less safe than other motorways.
Alan Stevens, chief scientist, transportation, said: "“The volume of traffic on our motorways is increasing, so we need to take steps to increase capacity, improve traffic flow and ease congestion in a safe and pragmatic way.