New Clause 22 - Motorway hard shoulders

Traffic Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:15 pm on 10th February 2004.

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'No motorway hard shoulder shall be used as a running lane other than in an emergency unless the proposal has been the subject of a safety audit and the results of that audit produced.'.—[Mr. Chope.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 30—Motorway hard shoulders and bus-lanes (breakdown vehicles)—

'(1) A breakdown vehicle operated by an accredited breakdown organisation shall be permitted—

(a) to use the hard shoulder of a motorway unless otherwise directed by a police officer; and

(b) to travel in any bus lane.

(2) In this section, ''breakdown vehicle'' and ''accredited breakdown organisation'' shall have the same meaning as in the Greater London (Central Zone) Congestion Charging Order 2001.'.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hour is late, but these are two important issues. Motoring organisations and other people involved in road safety have expressed much concern about the prospect of motorway hard shoulders being used as running lanes other than in emergencies. New clause 22 makes the common-sense proposition that that should not happen unless the proposal has been the subject of a safety audit whose results have been published.

We know that the Government are thinking of using the M42 as the lead case for a motorway hard shoulder being used as a running lane. They are talking about quite a lot of built-in road safety provisions, but there is concern that they may be considering introducing hard shoulder running on a wider basis, without adequate regard to the need for safety. One problem with hard shoulder running is that it deprives people of a refuge if their vehicle breaks down. A significant number of fatalities each year involve people who are standing by their vehicles on the hard shoulder. We fear that that number would increase significantly if

the hard shoulder did not exist and was used as a running lane. I hope that the Minister will comment on our concerns.

The first part of new clause 30 would provide access to the hard shoulder for recovery vehicles. We hope that the Minister will accept it, because it is surely four-square in line with what the Government acknowledged in the July 1998 White Paper ''A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone''. Paragraph 3.143 stated:

''We will also look for ways to give recovery vehicles, which would need to be properly accredited, higher priority in congested traffic, including allowing them to run on the hard shoulder.''

We now have a definition of recovery vehicles, as a result of the congestion charging legislation in London, so the new clause incorporates the aspiration that the Government expressed in the White Paper together with a workable definition.

The new clause also covers access by recovery vehicles to bus lanes. If the world showed some common sense, we would not need to try to legislate on that matter, but we know that there are examples of recovery vehicles attending breakdowns in bus lanes and then being subject to penalty notices. That seems farcical, but the capacity for some local authority enforcement authorities to behave in a totally irrational way knows no bounds. In the recent bad weather, there were examples of people abandoning their vehicles because it was snowing. They could not move their vehicles but penalty notices were then affixed to them.

Brian White indicated assent.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:30 pm, 10th February 2004

The hon. Gentleman acknowledges that that absurdity happened. New clause 30 would prevent that absurdity from happening on the limited number of occasions on which recovery vehicles seek to help road users whose vehicles have broken down in bus lanes.

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Shadow Minister, Transport

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is attempting to do. In principle, a vehicle that is on the hard shoulder of a motorway is a prime hazard; it must be removed as quickly as possible because it presents a danger to other vehicles. There have been well documented accidents as a result of such obstacles.

However, I have a series of questions and I hope that the Minister can answer some of them. How would the hon. Gentleman legislate for the speed of the breakdown vehicle and the conditions under which it would be allowed to travel? It is possible that a vehicle called out through the RAC, approaching down the hard shoulder, might have to overtake a vehicle that had called out the AA. It would then have to re-enter the carriageway in order to overtake the stationary vehicle and continue on its journey to the car that had called it out.

Likewise, what would happen if the motorway were chock-a-block, and the breakdown vehicle moved on to the hard shoulder in order to overtake, but found in its path a car that was pulling on to it due to overheating? The last thing that the driver of the stricken car would do would be to appreciate that a vehicle might be overtaking at speed on the left hand side. He would not recognise, as he pulled over, that he could be about to create an accident. The situation would be fraught with danger, not least because the hard shoulder could also be strewn with debris. A breakdown vehicle travelling at significant speed could pose a real problem. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve. However, his laudable attempt to decrease danger by enabling vehicles to be removed from the hard shoulder quickly could create more accidents.

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

The two new clauses seem to conflict in their ambitions. New clause 22 would seriously restrict hard shoulder running, whereas new clause 30 opens up opportunities for more vehicles to use the hard shoulder. I do not know what the logic is behind that; perhaps the new clauses were tabled on different days with no thought about co-ordination.

New clause 30 proposes that

''A breakdown vehicle operated by an accredited breakdown organisation shall be permitted . . . to use the hard shoulder of a motorway unless otherwise directed by a police officer''.

That would permit breakdown vehicles routinely to use the hard shoulder. Such use of the hard shoulder would send the wrong message to other drivers, devaluing the purpose of the hard shoulder, and possibly leading to misuse. The circumstances in which the hard shoulder of a motorway can be used are set out in the Motorway Traffic (England & Wales) Regulations 1982, which contain a general prohibition on driving on the hard shoulder but provide for exceptions and relaxations. Those are, importantly: where permission is given by a constable; where it is necessary for a person

''to avoid or prevent an accident or to obtain or give help required as a result of an accident or emergency'', or where it is necessary

''for the removal of any vehicle from any part of a motorway''.

Within that, the services can use the motorway hard shoulder in certain circumstances. That has been considered in some detail, and guidance, prepared by ACPO and endorsed by the Highways Agency, has been issued with regard to discretionary authorisation for access to motorway hard shoulders. One of its stipulations is that the recovery vehicle should not travel in excess of 20 mph. A careful protocol has been established. Further difficulties will need to be discussed with the motoring organisations, and we would be happy to do so if it would help to facilitate the excellent work that they do.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Can the Minister spell out exactly what has happened since the statement in the July 1998 White Paper?

Photo of Mr David Jamieson Mr David Jamieson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

No, I cannot. However, I would happy to jot a line to the hon. Gentleman if it helps.

New clause 30 suggests that breakdown vehicles operated by accredited breakdown organisations should be permitted to use bus lanes. Again, that takes us back to issues that we discussed earlier. Bus lanes are a means of giving priority to buses. Permitting more vehicles to use them will devalue their purpose. Traffic regulations orders to designate bus lanes are made by the traffic authorities, and they may include exemptions for activities that will necessarily involve other vehicles entering a bus lane, such as removing obstructions to traffic. We see no reason to give a general permission to breakdown vehicles to use bus lanes, whatever the circumstances.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have heard what the Minister said, and I would like to discuss the points that he raised with those who are principally concerned—the organisations that provide road recovery services. All three major organisations have been concerned about the matter. Once we have had the chance to consider the Minister's comments, we may be minded to come back with something on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.