Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by RAC (TEA 08)


  RAC Motoring Services offers a range of services to customers including roadside rescue and recovery, traffic and travel information, car servicing and repair, vehicle examinations and temporary directional signs. We provide roadside rescue and recovery for 6.2 million customers and attend over 2.4 million breakdowns a year. Our aim is to become the first choice provider of individual motoring solutions to our customers.

  We are separate from the RAC Foundation, which is an independent charity set up to champion the interests of motorists and which runs a number of high profile media campaigns and conducts research on safety, environmental and general motoring issues.


  Rescue and recovery (paragraphs 1 to 5)—RAC has a significant role to play in assisting the Highways Agency in reducing congestion, and in promoting safer, more reliable journeys. We would hope to be consulted at an early state on all initiatives affecting deployment of our resources.

  Breakdowns on motorways (paragraphs 6 to 12)—RAC has significant expertise in best practice on motorway working. We are concerned to ensure that the Highways Agency continues to protect and invest in the hardshoulder network, and that use of the hardshoulder for running (ie at busy motorway junctions) is only considered in exceptional cases. In addition, we have serious concerns over any plans for the Highways Agency to operate its own rapid reaction task forces for motorway vehicle recovery. This would undermine breakdown membership organisations in addition to confusing motorists, and could have serious knock-on effects.

  RAC Signs (paragraphs 13 to 18)—RAC would welcome a consistent approach by the Highways Agency and its contractors to temporary signage. This could be supported by more comprehensive updating of its database of roads and contractors.


  1.  Rescue and recovery operators can play a positive role in traffic and network management and RAC is keen to ensure that the Highways Agency recognises our role.

  2.  Indeed, rescue and recovery operators represent a fast incident management service. We remove broken down cars which constitute safety hazards and can cause congestion, with all the economic and environmental costs that this can entail. It is vital that we can get to breakdowns as quickly as possible and we are investing in technology to reduce our response times, which are also key factors in customer satisfaction. On motorways, speedy response is even more critical, given that the Highways Agency's own research suggested that vehicles involved in collisions on the hardshoulder have been parked for an average of only 11 minutes.20

  3.  Although we are not classified as an emergency service, our service is essential to all our members and it is also valuable to all other road users, whether individual motorists, commercial vehicles or public transport. Moreover, like the emergency services we have no discretion about the time and destination of our journeys.

  4.  By attending to breakdowns quickly and getting motorists on the move again (our patrols fix 80 per cent of all our breakdowns at the roadside), we can help the Highways Agency meet its objective of reduced congestion, reduced deaths, more reliable journeys and less pollution. And the more congested the roads become, the greater the impact of breakdowns on the road network. The White Paper on the Future of Transport in July 1998 made explicit reference to our role by recommending that consideration should be given to granting accredited rescue and recovery operations higher priority in congested traffic.

  5.  At RAC we are keen to work in partnership with the Highways Agency to see that this becomes a practical reality and we have already opened a dialogue with them on this and related topics. The Highways Agency has many ambitious plans for developing its road network through its "Strategic Vision 2010" and early consultation on the Highways Agency on any plans which may affect deployment of our resources, is very important. We are pleased with the response that we have received so far from the Highways Agency and we trust that this dialogue will continue productively in the future.


  6.  The hardshoulder network was set up to ensure the safety of motorists who have broken down on the motorway, for people working on the road and for the emergency services. Some 250 people are killed or seriously injured each year on hardshoulders and some 77 per cent of those stopping do so because of breakdowns.21 For safety reasons, it is vital to retain the hardshoulder and develop best practice guidelines for those working on the hardshoulder to minimise the risk of injury for all involved.

  7.  While RAC recognises that reallocating hardshoulders to exit lanes over small stretches of motorway at very busy junctions (where traffic is already travelling more slowly) can be desirable, particularly when tied to lower speed limits, we do believe that this should be the exception rather than the rule. Given our expertise in hardshoulder safety and practice, we would wish to be fully consulted if any plans should emerge for more extensive hardshoulder running or reductions in hardshoulder width as outlined in the Highways Agency's "Strategic Roads 2010".

  8.  In " Strategic Roads 2010", the Highways Agency also promotes the role of rapid response teams to provide speedy response to all motorists. The intention is for such a service to be provided by the Highways Agency at no cost to the motorist, which we would support. Motorists would be recovered to safe havens where they would await their own breakdown operator. However, the Highways Agency has acknowledged that a charge may have to be made for this rapid response service once a full cost benefit analysis has been conducted, or when the practice becomes more widespread.

20 Survive Report21 Ibid.

  9.  RAC would have strong concerns about such a development. Firstly, it would undermine the value of taking out national breakdown cover, provided by rescue and recovery operators such as RAC. It would also penalise those responsible motorists who have provided for national breakdown risk (eg by joining RAC) since, in an addition to their annual premium, they would be obliged to pay again simply because they have had the misfortune to break down on a road covered by a Highways Agency rapid response team. This would clearly be a disincentive to taking up national breakdown cover, with motorists relying instead on calling out a local garage if they break down. This has significant knock-on implications for congestion management elsewhere because, when such motorists break down in say, city centres, they will create greater road safety hazards since they will be at the roadside for longer while they first try to identify a local recovery service in addition to the normal waiting time.

  10.  RAC in partnership with the Survive Agencies is developing an accreditation scheme for rescue and recovery operators, setting out minimum safety and good practice procedures to ensure that transport authorities can easily identify the industry for the purposes of road management. This could include guidelines on speeds of response in certain circumstances or locations as well as safety on the hardshoulder, including vehicle conspicuity and lighting. In addition, the Survive Report on hardshoulder safety (enclosed) called for a British Standard on safe working practices at the roadside, which would apply beyond on our own industry.

  11.  It is important that such an accreditation system is established early in 2001 so that it can be used by the industry and transport authorities immediately as transport policy is evolving quickly.


  12.  RAC Signs is one of the leading national operators for temporary traffic signs in the UK. We provide signage for approximately 3,000 events in the UK annually. In 2000 we provided signage for some of the UK's major events including the Motorshow, Royal Ascot, and The British Grand Prix, each of which attracted almost ¼ million people.

  13.  Our signs have a positive role to play in congestion management, in that we direct traffic onto the most appropriate routes and minimise congestion on local roads. Our signs are erected on average for two weeks, and we would like the Highways Agency to continue to recognise the role we play in traffic management on its network.

  14.  Our role is recognised in legislation and we endeavour to meet local authority and central government guidelines to minimise road safety hazards and visual pollution. We have a good working relationship with the Highways Agency though we believe that there are a number of improvements that could be made to minimise the administration for both parties when processing applications for the approval of temporary directional signs.

  15.  Firstly, while the Highways Agency periodically does provide us with information regarding the various contractual arrangements for network management, we do find that there is still some confusion. This can generate extra administration and expenditure not only for RAC, but also for the Highways Agency and its contractors. Ideally, we would ask that the Highways Agency provide us with an electronic map of its road network, indicating the name and contact number of the relevant body, as soon as any changes are made. While there is a site on the Internet, it is not comprehensive and is not regularly updated with this information.

  16.  Secondly, we would welcome consistency of approach in terms of the process for applying for permission from the relevant agency to erect temporary signs. This is particularly relevant where the Highways Agency has retained contractors to manage different parts of its network. Currently, in some areas, we might be required simply to contact the Highways Agency to seek permission for a particular temporary sign (the Highways Agency would then deal with its contractor direct). In others, we may be required to seek permission only from the contractor or even consult both the Highways Agency and the contractor. We would ask that the Highways Agency simplify this process thus reducing administration and expenditure for all concerned parties.

  17.  Finally, we would also welcome consistency between the Highways Agency and local authorities in terms of the type, size and nature of the signs that are permitted for temporary directional signs. We often find that for one event, the Highways Authority will have different requirements to the local authority and this can complicate the administration procedures for our own operations.

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