Being stuck in a traffic jam is one of the most frustrating things that a motorist can face, especially on their daily commute. 61% of drivers say that congestion has become worse in the past year. The UK is in desperate need of a solution – but are traffic lights on motorways really the answer?

Motorway traffic lights trial

In order to combat some of the UK’s traffic woes, Highways England is investing £7 million into a trial that will see traffic lights being used on the link road between the M6 and M62 motorways during the morning rush hour.

Accompanied by electronic signs displaying congestion warnings and variable speed limits, these traffic lights will be switched on between 6.30 am and 9.30am. The hope is that they will ease the flow of traffic and create a smoother journey for commuters.

The lights were tested last month and will be switched on in December. They will be monitored by cameras for a year to see if they are having the desired effect. If so, such schemes may be rolled out across the country.

Until now, traffic lights have only been installed on slip roads to slow traffic as it joins the motorway. However, this new plan aims to monitor the vehicles leaving the M6 so that they can be controlled as part of efforts to minimise queuing on the M62.

Are traffic lights really the solution for motorway congestion?

(Credit – Highways England)

A topsy turvy plan?

While transport professionals believe that the traffic lights will help to ease congestion, it seems contraindicative to think that slowing down traffic will help to speed up journey times. Indeed, many motorists are concerned that the traffic lights will simply increase the number of accidents on the link road, with commuters engaging in drag racing-style efforts to get ahead on their route between the motorways!

Naturally, the chance to raise revenue as part of the scheme has not been missed. Drivers who don’t obey the variable speed limits or stop at the red lights will be fined. No doubt this will anger motorists already facing the risk of fines due to newly implemented smart motorways, with all their related (and widely misunderstood) rules.

A growing problem

There were 1.35 million traffic jams on motorways and A roads in the past year. That equates to an average of 3,700 tailbacks each day. The estimated cost to the economy of all this congestion is £9 billion per year.

Motorways are definitely causing drivers the most issues. Although they only make up 1% of the UK’s road network, they are responsible for 21% of all of the miles driven each year. Add to that the fact that traffic is up 30% in comparison to the mid-90s and the scale of the problem becomes apparent.

Where will it end?

New technological updates on the roads (smart motorways technology being the prime example) are simply making driving less enjoyable. This is definitely not being helped by the increasing congestion that motorists are facing every day. Could this be on reason that car sales have been dropping, as people opt to use public transport or car shares instead?

Even if congestion on our motorways isn’t stopping people driving to work, it could certainly be changing their behaviour. Many drivers are opting to use smaller roads instead of the motorway network. The likely result will be more congestion on our A and B roads, resulting in similar problems to those that drivers are already facing on the motorways.

Congestion on smaller roads also causes its own host of problems, including blocking crossings and making roads around schools more dangerous. Larger vehicles could even be at risk of getting stuck if they meet something of a similar size travelling in the opposite direction.

The government is in the process of investing £50 million into a number of large projects that aim to ease congestion. However, with motorists already feeling angry about the financial side of owning and using a car, the government will need to do an awful lot in order to make driving enjoyable again. Rolling out a nationwide motorway traffic light system is unlikely to win hearts and minds. There’s no simple answer to controlling the UK’s traffic during the busiest times of the day, but an answer is what we need – and fast!

Do you find driving less pleasurable than it used to be? What changes could be made that would enhance your driving experience? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. 

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