A report out today from the House of Commons transport committee says that plans to convert hard shoulders to additional running lanes should be scrapped because they are not safe.
In 'all lane running', the latest version of smart motorways, the hard shoulder is used as a live lane of traffic. Previous schemes have only used the hard shoulder at peak times or to deal with congestion.
Plans are in place to permanently convert hard shoulders into running lanes on around 300 miles of motorway. Highways England has a programme of 30 all lane running schemes to the value of £6bn over the next nine years.
The committee did not agree with government that this is merely an incremental change and a logical extension of previous schemes. It concluded that the permanent loss of the hard shoulder in all lane running schemes was a radical move and an unacceptable price to pay for such improvements.
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. 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.
“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."
The full House of Commons transport committee report All lane running can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmtrans/63/63.pdf