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13 April 2014, 12:31
Drivers' groups are worried about a new scheme that will permanently turn the hard shoulder of the M25 into an extra lane for use by all vehicles.
Until now hard-shoulder running has been trialled on some motorways, including the M42 in the Midlands, but only at certain times.
From Monday 14 April 2014, the hard shoulder between junctions 23 and 25 on the M25 in Hertfordshire will be available for use by vehicles at all times.
Then in May 2014, the hard shoulder will be available for traffic between junctions 5 and 6/7 of the M25 on the Kent/Surrey border. The plan is to extend this all-day operation to other motorways.
Dubbed "smart motorways", the initiative is from the Highways Agency whose senior project manager John Martin is advising drivers to "get smart and find out more about how to use it, the types of signs and signals they will see and what to do in the event of a breakdown".
But AA roads policy head Paul Watters, while ackowledging that motorways were "our safest roads", said the smart motorway scheme depended on drivers complying with the rules of the road and safety advice.
He went on: "Safety also depends on a rapid response to incidents on the part of the road operator and technology. We know the Highways Agency has gone to great lengths to minimise risk and build-in safety, though we do believe it has cut back too hard on the technology used in the successful M42 pilot scheme.
"For example, on M25 there will be far fewer gantries and the emergency refuge area spacing is too great at 1.4 miles. At least the drivers trapped by regular chronic congestion on the M25 may breathe a sigh of relief but those unfortunate enough to be stopped in lane one may take a sharp intake of breath on occasions."
RAC technical director David Bizley said: "We have raised concerns with the Highways Agency about the added risk arising from increased distance between emergency refuge areas, and we are disappointed so far at the absence of action to address them."