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Over the last few years, we have seen Britain's motorway hard shoulders being used more and more as driving lanes. Hard shoulders have previously been used for emergency use only such as a breakdown, or I maybe even someone who needs to relieve themselves quickly. However, congestion on some of our motorways is becoming a massive growing problem. The hardest hit areas are predominantly around the London M25 and other major city motorways like the M6 around Birmingham.

Managed motorways using hard shoulders

‘Managed motorways’ is a piloted scheme that has been operating for a number of years now. The scheme offers variable speed limits and hard shoulder driving. It is believed that the managed motorways system reduces fatal accidents and injuries.

The first pilot scheme was set up in Birmingham during 2006 on the M42 junction 3a to 17. It was incredibly successful; hence, we are steadily seeing an increase in the project being rolled out across the UK. At present our roads comprise of eleven managed motorway systems and presently cost the government £1.4 billion. Some of the major managed motorways include the M42, M62, M4, M5, M62, M1 and London's M25. There are currently, 40 miles total of managed motorways in the UK, and it’s growing each year; half of those miles stems across the West Midlands.

The idea behind variable speed limits is to keep the traffic moving at a steady pace rather than just have bottle necked areas that bring traffic to a complete standstill.

The usual speed limit is 50 mph; however, a computer system is responsible for monitoring road conditions and traffic volumes. Hard shoulders are used in case of emergencies and heavy congestion. This gives motorists an extra lane to keep the traffic flowing with the hope to prevent traffic coming to a stop.

Motorway breakdown refuge areas

When the hard shoulders are going to be used as a driving lane, motorists have plenty of time to manoeuvre into position. There are alerts and signs to ensure motorists know what lies ahead. Often, when hard shoulders are being used there will be no place to stop in case of emergencies and breakdowns. On the other hand, there is the occasional large lay-by or parking bay; these are usually situated approximately every 500 yards on a managed motorway stretch. These places of refuge are much bigger than hard shoulders; they are safe and also have emergency phones.

There are talks with the government wanting to extend the refuges to every 1.5 miles.

However, it is suggested that this could cause serious issues for breakdowns and emergencies as the distance to stop would be too far. It would literally be impossible for motorists to drive 1.5 miles if their car has suddenly broken down. If you breakdown on a motorway where there is no hard shoulder, pull over safely if you can and stay in your car for added protection. One great idea that has really worked well over the last 10 years is the increase in highway patrol vehicles. You will soon be seen by the Highway Agency from their CCTV coverage.

The use of road signs above the driving lanes explains speed limits, refuges and when the hard shoulder is next available. The managed motorway system is enforced by the law.

Have you noticed these speed control areas? Do you think they are a good, or bad?