Drivers to use M-way hard shoulders to ease jams

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LONDON, Oct 25 (Reuters) Drivers will be allowed to use the hard shoulder on motorways across the country in an attempt to ease traffic jams.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly said trials on the M42 in the West Midlands had cut congestion and the scheme will be extended to other motorways.

Safety campaigners fear the move will endanger lives by blocking the emergency services and leaving drivers with nowhere to stop if they break down.

The government, however, says roads will be closely monitored, with lanes closed to allow emergency vehicles through. Lay-bys will be built every 500 metres for breakdowns.

''New traffic management techniques, like hard shoulder running and varying speed limits, offer practical and cost-effective solutions to cutting congestion,'' Kelly said in a statement. ''I now want to explore whether other motorways could benefit from similarly creative measures.'' During the M42 trial, some journey times northbound fell by more than a quarter and by nine percent heading south.

The trial saw drivers directed by electronic signs onto the hard shoulder during the rush hour. The speed limit was cut from 70 mph to 50 when the hard shoulder was in use.

Road safety campaign group Brake said the scheme could delay ambulances.

''A few minutes' delay can make the difference between life and death for a person who is critically injured,'' said Cathy Keeler, head of campaigns.

The AA said: ''The most robust method of adding capacity to a motorway is to build another lane while retaining the hard shoulder.'' Kelly has ordered a feasibility study to see which other motorways will adopt the measures.

REUTERS SKB BD1345

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