Hard shoulder to cry on?

Some of the UK’s biggest motoring organisations have voiced concerns about opening up motorway hard shoulders to ease congestion. On April 14, an eight-mile stretch of the M25’s hard shoulder between junctions 23 and 25 was opened up to traffic. It’s all part of the Highways Agency’s ‘Smart Motorway All-Lane Running’ scheme and is designed to reduce congestion by increasing capacity on certain motorways.
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Under this scheme, the hard shoulder is used as a permanent running lane and only closed to traffic in the event of a road traffic incident.  Roads affected use CCTV and electronic signs to monitor traffic flow and give early warning to drivers of incidents ahead. Similar schemes are run on sections of the M42, M1, M6 and M5, but the hard shoulder is only opened as a running lane during busy periods. This is known as Dynamic Hard Shoulder Running. Both the RAC and AA have raised concerns about what happens to motorists who breakdown on Smart stretches of motorway.

Safety concern

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says the UK economy loses £8billion a year because of congestion (Bold thinking: A model to fund our future roads 2012). If its figures are accurate, something clearly needs to be done to ease congestion. But the risks of opening up a hard shoulder to traffic are clear. As the AA puts it: “Permanent hard shoulder removal means breakdowns and other emergencies could take place in a live traffic lane rather than the hard shoulder”. The RAC takes a similar view: “Our main safety concern for traffic using the hard shoulder permanently centres around the fact that emergency refuge areas will be further apart in sections of these schemes (up to 2.5km apart) than the Hard Shoulder Running ones (500-800m apart). “This means motorists who break down on an all-lane running stretch will often find it impossible to reach an emergency refuge area and, therefore, have to stay in a live running lane until it is closed to traffic by the Highways Agency.”

Driver unease

It’s not just the organisations themselves who are concerned. In an AA-Populus poll, almost two thirds (63%) of more than 21,000 motorists said they would be more nervous about driving on a motorway with no hard shoulder. Some 87% said having hard shoulders made motorways safe, while 77% disagreed that more reliable, modern cars negated the need for a hard shoulder. Meanwhile, 84% of drivers surveyed by the RAC said the hard shoulder was important in breakdown and accident situations, and 82% said they’d feel ‘very concerned’ if they broke down in a hard shoulder being used as a lane. The Highways Agency says the technology it employs on Smart roads will keep driers safe. On the eight-mile stretch of the M25, there are now: •   Five super-span gantries (over both carriageways) •   Three single-span gantries (over one carriageway) •   Nine refuge areas •   20 overhead signals •   28 CCTV cameras It says these measures should allow the flow of traffic to be managed to prioritise safety in all situations.

Road rules

On your average motorway, the Highway code says that if your vehicle develops a problem, and you’re unable to leave at the next exit or pull into a service area, you should pull on to the hard shoulder and stop as far to the left as possible, with your wheels turned to the left. You should attempt to stop as close as possible to an emergency telephone (situated at one mile intervals). All passengers should exit the vehicle on the left hand side and any animals on board should be kept inside. The Code advises against attempting even simple repairs, to keep all passengers away from the carriageway and to make sure children are kept under control. We really want to know what you think. Would you be nervous about driving on a motorway with no hard shoulder? Is it safe make the hard shoulder an active running lane? Tell us in the comments, or tweet us @MoneySupermkt.
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