The introduction of ‘all lane running’ on the motorway network presents ‘unacceptable’ risks and should be rolled back immediately, an influential committee of MPs has said.
In a new report, the Transport Select Committee says permanent closure of the hard shoulder is a ‘major change’ from previous smart motorway schemes and the Department for Transport (DfT) ‘is wrong to present this as merely an uncontroversial, incremental step or the logical extension of what has gone before’.
The report adds that ‘the way that the department has presented the risks of all lane running is disingenuous’.
The M62 'smart motorway' is an all lane running scheme
It says that, while the schemes provide journey time and reliability improvements, ‘the risks arising from converting the hard shoulder into a running lane are an unacceptable price to pay’.
Committee chair Louise Ellman 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.’
She added: ‘Government needs to demonstrate that all lane running schemes do not make the road any less safe that the traditional motorway with a hard shoulder.’
Ms Ellman pointed to the M42 Active Traffic Management (smart motorway) pilot as ‘a model which has worked’.
Among 18 conclusions and recommendations the report says: ‘We recommend an immediate halt to the rollout of all lane running, and that the proposed schemes be replaced by schemes based on the M42 Active Traffic Management design.’
The report expresses concerns about the size of emergency refuge areas, as well as an ‘unacceptable’ level of misuse which, combined with the scarcity of such areas, can lead to drivers having to stop in a live lane in the event of a breakdown.
According to MPs, ‘poor compliance with Red X signals is a grave concern that not only puts motorists at risk, but also places vehicle recovery operators, emergency services, and traffic officers in harm’s way’.
In another hard-hitting criticism of the DfT, the report says: ‘The fact that smart motorways have existed for years on the motorway does not warrant using one year’s worth of safety data on the M25 to justify to stakeholders the national roll out of all lane running across the country.’
It adds: ‘The department needs to present this honestly, as a radical change, and, if intent on going ahead with the deployment of all lane running, need to hold back until at least the safety objective of the current schemes is confirmed as having been achieved.’
A DfT spokesperson said: 'Our motorways are among the safest in the world, and cutting the number of accidents is our top priority. All lane running roads are designed to be as safe as ordinary motorways.
'We will be considering all the Transport Select Committee’s findings carefully and responding shortly.'