Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly has announced plans to roll out a new traffic management scheme, including hard shoulder running, following a successful pilot scheme on the M42.
The use of Active Traffic Management (ATM) techniques began on the M42 in Spring 2005 and full use of the system, including hard shoulder running, began in September 2006.
The first six months of the full M42 trial saw significant benefits for motorists, the environment and the economy, said the Department for Transport.
Use of the hard shoulder in peak periods saw average journey times fall by more than a quarter on the northbound carriageway and drivers' ability to predict their weekday journey times improved by 27%. Alongside this, overall fuel consumption reduced by 4% and vehicle emissions fell by up to 10%.
"The M42 trial shows that using innovative thinking to help drivers beat motorway jams really works, said Kelly. “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," she added.
According to the Department for Transport, those involved in the scheme did not feel road safety was compromised - with 84% of drivers saying they felt confident about using the hard shoulder. Alongside this, since the introduction of hard shoulder running the personal injury accident rate has fallen from 5.2 per month to 1.5 per month on this section of the M42.
The Conservatives were qualified in their response to the scheme. Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers said: "Whilst in principle we welcome the Government’s proposal to introduce hard-shoulder driving, this is a lame response to Britain’s crippling congestion crisis.
"The announcement comes in the wake of the government’s embarrassing climbdown on their flagship roads policy - national road pricing - and has all the hallmarks of one of Gordon Brown’s trademark rehashed, reheated policy announcements that lack coherent vision.
"This promise had already been made to motorists in 2003. Following last week’s news that traffic in Britain’s cities is amongst the slowest in Europe this is clearly another cynical attempt by Gordon Brown to cover up his poor record on roads. The Prime Minister has run out of ideas and vision for tackling the problems that plague Britain’s transport system,” she said.