Tougher driving test could help cut congestion, MPs say

Traffic jam on A406 in north London
Image caption The committee says congestion costs the economy billions each year

A tougher driving test and more use of real-time traffic information could help tackle congestion and delays on the roads, MPs have suggested.

The Commons transport committee says there also needs to be better co-ordination between councils, highways agencies and maintenance companies.

The MPs were tasked with examining ways of reducing congestion without road building or introducing pricing.

The government said it would consider the committee's report "carefully".

The MPs said a "more rigorous" test could cut accidents and improve traffic flow.

"The overwhelming view from the evidence we received was that aspects of poor road user behaviour led to increased congestion," their report said.

"Firstly, by directly causing incidents and accidents, often linked to safety issues; and secondly, by inappropriate road use, which is not necessarily unsafe, but which adversely affects the flow of traffic."

Highway Code app

The report, called Out of the jam: Reducing congestion on our roads, said jams could cost the UK economy £24bn a year by 2025 through late deliveries, missed appointments and other delays.

"There is also no single cause of road congestion," the report adds.

"Tackling congestion involves a range of actions, many of which depend on local authorities to implement, but central government has the primary responsibility for demanding and achieving improvements."

The MPs said motorists did not always keep up with updates to road signs and the law after they had passed their tests.

Changes to the Highway Code could also be placed more clearly on the DVLA website when motorists renewed a driving licence and be included in a leaflet with tax disk or licence renewal letters, they said.

A free Highway Code mobile phone application is another way standards could be improved, the committee said.

Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman said: "Improving the way we manage road space so that the network runs more smoothly is vital to the prosperity of the nation.

"Pursuing this challenge should form a key plank of central government transport policy."

She added: "The Department for Transport cannot simply devolve all responsibility for managing the road network to individual highway authorities.

"These organisations have a key role and duty for managing their local networks, but the DfT should actively support them in working together closely to fulfil that duty."

Among specific initiatives addressed in the report, the MPs called on the government to publish an assessment of traffic flow on the M4 in London since the bus lane was scrapped last November.

The committee said the bus lane should be reinstated if evidence showed that, taking into account all travellers, it contributed to faster traffic movement.

It also wants the DfT to monitor the scheme that opened up motorway hard shoulders to drivers at peak times "especially on road stretches where junctions are so widely spaced the use... could prevent emergency vehicles from reaching accidents".

'Challenging climate'

Roads Minister Mike Penning said: "We are committed to tackling congestion and improving transport across the country.

"That is why, despite the challenging economic climate, we have given the green light to more than 20 major transport schemes and made available a further £1.2bn for local transport improvements.

"We are also focusing on making better use of the road network... improving accident clear-up times, providing better information for motorists and tackling road works' disruption.

"We will consider the committee's report carefully and respond in full in due course."

Adding that the Highways Agency was monitoring the effects of the M4 bus lane removal, the minister said: "Early indications show that following the removal of the lane journey times have improved. We are currently undertaking more detailed analysis which we will publish in due course."

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