A traffic management scheme that allows motorists to drive on hard shoulder of the motorway during busy periods could be rolled out nationally, the transport secretary said today.
For the past two years, drivers along the M42 near Birmingham have been able to use the hard shoulder as an additional lane during peak periods. The initiative is part of the active traffic management system which also introduces variable speed limits to ease congestion.
Having achieved reduced driving times and eased congestion in the area around Birmingham International airport, the scheme is to be extended around the city at a cost of £150 million.
Transport secretary Ruth Kelly confirmed her department is also launching a feasibility study into opening hard shoulders to traffic across the motorway network.
Ms Kelly said: "The M42 trial shows that using innovative thinking to help drivers beat motorway jams really works.
"New traffic management techniques, like hard shoulder running and varying speed limits, offer practical and cost-effective solutions to cutting congestion and I now want to explore whether other motorways could benefit from similarly creative measures.
"Other important benefits are less disruption from road works, reduced environmental impacts, better information for drivers and a faster, more effective response to accidents."
Drivers on the M42 reported their average journey times fell by more than a quarter after being allowed onto the hard shoulder on the northbound carriageway. Average fuel consumption also fell by four per cent and emissions were down by ten per cent.
When the pilot was first proposed, concerns were raised about the safety ramifications of opening up the hard shoulder to fast moving traffic.
After the trial period, however, it was decided road safety was not compromised.
More than four in five drivers said they felt confident to use the hard shoulder and the personal injury accident rate fell from 5.2 per month to 1.5 per month.
Friends of the Earth (FoE), however, raised concerns the plans amount to motorway widening by stealth.
FoE senior transport campaigner Tony Bosworth argued adding additional lanes would not solve traffic problems.
He said: "Wider motorways will simply encourage more drivers and cause an increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
"The government's feasibility study should look at trialling reduced speed limits without widening in some places to help cut emissions."