It's not the slow coaches that are the danger

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The Transport Minister Steven Norris claims that his ban on coaches using the third lane of motorways, effective as from yesterday, will make travel safer. He says because coaches now have to have speed limiters holding them down to a maximum of 65mph, it is "inconsistent" for them to use a lane where other vehicles can travel at 70mph.

Does this mean there are different speed limits in different lanes on motorways, and that we cannot do 70mph in the middle lane but only 65mph? No, of course not, but that is how it comes across. The minister, his advisers and all motorway drivers should commit the following rubric to heart: "There is no fast lane; there is no slow lane; there is no cruising lane. All lanes are equal."

In any event, the Department of Transport's own statistics in pre-speed limiter days put coaches well down the league table of speed sinners. Even the AA emphasises this. And in the era of mechanical limiters it is only possible for coaches to break the limit by tampering with the device - rightly a criminal offence.

If it is not speed, is safety the problem? Hardly, because as the minister himself regularly points out, using his own department's statistics, coach passengers are eight times safer than car passengers. So what is this ban on coaches in the third lane really about? Can it be the car-owning electorate that is at the bottom of it? The AA says some of its members "often feel pushed around by coaches". Can the Government really be implementing this ban simply because of feelings - in the face of facts?

When the Confederation of Passenger Transport was consulted on the proposal for the ban, we said we would commission independent research and would submit the report to the minister. The independent research said there were no safety grounds for a ban but, on the contrary, "if such a ban were introduced, there could be more severe accidents because they would involve heavy goods vehicles, not cars".

The report also dealt with the economic effects on tourism and the detrimental effects on environmental pollution. The Confederation, however, rests its case on safety.

I would strongly advise the minister to use his usual excellent Liverpudlian commonsense to address the real motorway safety hazard: the middle-lane hog, the driver who sits tight at his (and it is invariably a man) complacent, law-abiding 70mph in the "cruising" lane, as he sees it, with never a glance in his rear-view mirror at the rapidly building tailback his selfishness is causing.

Perhaps Mr Norris could work with the motoring associations and driving schools to raise motorway car driving standards, concentrating on lane manners and lane discipline. This ban does not simply penalise coaches, it endangers everyone. It has handed the third lane to the boy racers and speed freaks who will turn it into a restriction-free speed trap.

The writer is director of public affairs, Confederation of Passenger Transport UK