The Commons Select Committee on Transport is holding an inquiry into All Lane Running. The inquiry will be looking at issues including the impacts on safety, capacity and congestion, and taking a view on how policy on all-lane running should evolve.
All Lane Running is part of the “Smart Motorways” approach, with the hard shoulder adopted as an additional traffic lane: breakdowns are managed by a combination of camera monitoring and emergency signage.
At Campaign for Better Transport, we’ve been critical of All Lane Running, flagging up concerns that permanently increasing capacity will only lead to more traffic and more congestion in the long term, with knock on effects on CO2 emissions and air pollution. We're also concerned about the safety aspects of losing the hard shoulder - especially at a time when the numbers of serious road traffic accidents are rising.
Campaign for Better Transport is supportive of ideas to make best use of existing motorway capacity, but we feel All Lane Running is simply the wrong approach. We would prefer to see use of the hard shoulder reserved for congested times only, as in the original Managed Motorway scheme proposals. When this was piloted on the M42 (using a full managed motorway approach without all lane running) there was a 55.7% improvement in personal injury accident rates. So why not extend those safety benefits to all motorway users?
Our evidence to the inquiry calls for:
- a moratorium on any further introduction of all-lane running
- closer monitoring of the numbers of people killed or seriously injured (KSIs) at existing all-lane running experiments
- closer monitoring of air quality at existing all-lane running experiments
- ending all-lane running at locations where KSIs and/or air pollution levels have increased.
We’re not alone in expressing concerns as the evidence from other experts, from Prospect to the Transport Planning Society, shows. Motoring organisations and police forces have highlighted the safety and operational problems of All Lane Running. Some 85% of drivers surveyed by the AA feel that the hard shoulder is important for safety in the event of a breakdown, while the RAC found only 28% of its members on motorways with All Lane Running could see an emergency refuge area when breaking down.
As one experienced HGV driver commented "ALR is a quick fix which has many flaws and can be compared to living your life without an insurance policy, cheaper when all is OK but has far greater consequences when things go wrong."
We regularly hear that UK roads are among the safest in the world, but there is no room for complacency. The latest report from Highways England notes an 8.4% increase in the numbers of people killed or seriously injured (KSI) on the strategic road network this year despite having agreed a key target to reduce KSI by 40% by the end of 2020. International best practice on road safety is based on the Safe Systems approach, which includes appropriate use of traffic segregation and demarcation of road space. That is at odds with the integration of the hard shoulder into regular use adopted by All Lane Running.
It’s a real concern that the Department for Transport and Highways England are pressing ahead with All Lane Running while road safety is going backwards.
Making our roads safer should be a priority for everyone. Already in 2016 we’ve seen horrific hit and run cases from Scotland to the south coast. Yet the number of full-time traffic police operating in England and Wales has been cut by almost a third since 2010.
The Government's latest Road Safety Statement talks about protecting vulnerable road users and strengthening penalties for dangerous driving. It remains to be seen how this will be delivered in practice.
One proposal, to increase penalties for mobile phone use at the wheel, is out for consultation until 15 March. Meanwhile, Greg Mulholland MP recently introduced the Criminal Driving (Justice for Victims) Bill calling for criminal driving that causes serious injury or death to be taken more seriously, with backing from road safety charity BRAKE.
The Bill comes back to the House of Commons on 11 March: will your MP be there?