The Government response

All lane running

The Government response

1.The Transport Committee published its Second Report of Session 2016–17, All lane running (HC 63), on 30 June 2016.1 The Government’s response was received on 26 August 2016 and is appended to this report.

2.In our Report we raised concerns about the risks associated with the Government’s plans to achieve an expansion in motorway capacity by the conversion of the hard shoulder into a running lane and called for an immediate halt to the rollout of all lane running (ALR). The Government response rejects the principal recommendations we made. The thrust of our argument is that the move to all lane running – the permanent conversion of the hard shoulder into a running lane – is a radical change to the nature of motorways. We are not alone in expressing concerns about the latest design of all lane running motorways; responding to our Report the RAC chief engineer David Bizley and Edmund King, president of the AA, have both expressed concerns.2 We note that others, like the Road Haulage Association, think we have been too cautious.3

3.We do not accept the Government’s argument that experience on All Purpose Trunk Roads without hard shoulders can be used to justify removal of the hard shoulder on motorways. Motorways are a different class of road and drivers have different expectations when using them.

4.We recognise the need to expand capacity and accept that there are benefits to using the hard shoulder (see recommendation 2); the dynamic hard shoulder in use on the M42 shows that the benefits can be secured without needing to permanently remove the hard shoulder. We are disappointed that the Government chose to approve the use of all lane running on the M4 before we had the chance to consider its response to our Report.

5.We do not dispute that motorways are our safest roads but the speed of traffic means that accidents can be severe. We accept that there is a growing evidence base for all lane running but we remain concerned that the concerns of the emergency services, road workers and recovery operators are not being taken in to account as fully as they might be.

6.In its response to the Committee the Government said ‘the evidence does not support the assertion that vehicle response personnel are significantly disproportionately affected by the introduction of All Lane Running’. Our conclusions were based on the evidence we took during our inquiry. The Government’s assessment of the risks treats vehicle recovery operators either as general ‘licenced road users’ or, where there is a contractual relationship with Highways England, as on road resources. It states “The hazard log does not contain a specific set of hazards for breakdown services and [private] recovery operators. Therefore the change in risk from the implementation of ALR cannot be assessed on the same hazard by hazard basis as the individual user groups covered in the previous sections [of the risk assessment].” This risk assessment relies on experience of the M42 ATM pilot scheme to show that exiting ERAs can be achieved safely. But ALR schemes will not have the same infrastructure as the M42 pilot scheme. We do not consider that the risks faced by vehicle recovery operators, private or otherwise, have been adequately considered.

7.We remain concerned about the size and spacing of the emergency refuge areas (ERAs). We are pleased that Highways England has committed to review ERA spacing. The M4 proposal should not have gone ahead until this review was complete. Recovery from an ERA presents problems for recovery vehicles that must reverse into an ERA and there is insufficient space for a recovery vehicle towing a Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) to accelerate to a speed at which it can safely join a live lane. The hard shoulder makes it possible for a vehicle recovering another to accelerate to the speed of traffic in a live lane before attempting to join the traffic. This is not possible when recovering a vehicle from an ERA which lacks the space for such acceleration and where the recovery vehicle and its tow must join a live lane from standing start. We not see how it is possible to recover an LGV from a refuge area without closing the nearside live lane and therefore we do not see what the difference is between ALR and dynamic hard shoulder. With a dynamic hard shoulder scheme the infrastructure is in place to manage this but in ALR requires the new procedures involving the police and Highways England described in the Government’s response. The risks associated with vehicle recovery, with or without the help of the police to manage traffic, are significant.

8.Non-compliance with variable speed limits and Red X signals are deeply worrying. We are pleased that the Government has accepted our recommendation that more effective public engagement is needed. The Government’s focus on raising public awareness is welcome, but education without the threat of effective enforcement will do little to tackle those who wilfully disregard speed limits and Red X signals. The contribution of ‘engineered’ safety measures such as stationary vehicle detection systems is welcome. But these will take time to develop and deploy and in the meantime the Government must make sure efforts to educate drivers are backed up by meaningful enforcement; it must make sure the resources needed for both education and enforcement are adequate. The Government should assess levels of compliance with Red X signals so that it can measure the effect of any change in driver education or enforcement on these levels of compliance. It should ensure that Highways England is taking steps to investigate and learn from any errors made in the use of Red X signals, such as the setting of signals in the wrong place, failing to set signals or changing signals before incidents are cleared.

9.We stand by our call for a halt in the rollout of all lane running. It seems that the Government is determined to press ahead with a move to the latest design of all lane running notwithstanding the concerns that we and others have expressed. We believe that it is therefore obliged to set out, more clearly than it has so far,

  • how the findings of the review into ERA spacing will be acted on and whether existing schemes will be reworked if spacing is reduced;
  • whether gantry spacing will be adjusted for existing schemes if the specification is tightened for new schemes;
  • when and how stationary vehicle detection systems will be retro-fitted to existing schemes; and
  • what plans it has for the dynamic hard shoulder pilot given that the Government does not consider it represents a typical design or performance for hard shoulder running.

1 Transport Select Committee, All lane running, Second Report of Session 2016–17, HC63, June 2016

2 RAC Press Centre, All lane running inquiry: RAC reacts to Transport Committee report, 30 June 2016, and BBC News, Scrap dangerous motorway hard shoulder plans, MPs warn, 30 June 2016

3 Road Haulage Association, RHA says the Transport Select Committee is too cautious on all lane running, 30 June 2016

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27 September 2016