Caravans banished to life in the slow lane

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The Independent Online

They potter along the roads during the summer holidays, much to the irritation of drivers stuck behind them. But now caravan owners are to be restricted to the slow lane of a busy motorway for the first time.

They potter along the roads during the summer holidays, much to the irritation of drivers stuck behind them. But now caravan owners are to be restricted to the slow lane of a busy motorway for the first time.

In what is described as an "experiment" but caravanners fear what may be part of a wider campaign in Whitehall against them, caravans are to be restricted to the slow lane of the M5 this summer on a steep hill west of Bristol.

Motorists in cars are likely to be pleased. Caravans overtaking other caravans are one of the biggest grumbles for drivers aiming to reach the coast and other holiday destinations.

The M5 is the main route to Cornwall and the West Country for thousands of caravans each summer.

David Jamieson, the junior transport minister, said there were long queues on summer weekends and bank holidays on the M5 caused partly by a short steep hill, Naish Hill. The permanent solution will be a crawler lane up the hill, which is due for completion by the summer of 2006.

In the meantime, the Highways Agency will be advising drivers of all vehicles towing trailers to stay on the inside lane of the M5 for the short length of Naish Hill during peak times this summer. "This will be introduced as a trial this summer and if successful, implemented for bank Holiday and other weekends when heavy traffic is anticipated," said Mr Jamieson.

Susie Haywood, a spokesperson for the RAC said: "Motoring should be a pleasurable experience. If this initiative creates smoother running traffic and reduces traffic deadlocks, then this seems an innovative way of improving drivers' journeys".

But the plan has not gone down well with everyone, not least some politicians. One MP in the all-party caravan group at Westminster accused the Highways Agency of being "out to get" caravan-owners.

Eric Illsley, co-chairman of the group, which includes Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the Highways Agency wanted to limit the restriction on the M5 to caravan owners.

After protests, the MPs who share a love of caravans, widened the restriction to all drivers of vehicles towing trailers. However, they are still suspicious that the Highways Agency could be testing out the idea to impose restrictions on caravan owners elsewhere.

"It is the first time this has happened anywhere in England," said Mr Illsley, who holidays with his wife in a two-berth Eldiss Mistral. "Everyone blames caravans for causing queues, but quite often it is as much heavy lorries as caravans. We don't want caravans to be singled out for special treatment by the Highways Agency."

The AA may have been expected to champion the cause of the motorists who complain about being caught behind caravans going at a snail's pace but a spokesman said they are worried the scheme could make the queues worse.

"I suppose we would be expected to say it is a darn good idea, but we are concerned about the way it is going to be controlled," an AA spokesman said.

"You could have queues ten miles long going at two miles an hour as lorries and caravans are forced down into one lane."

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