The government has told highway chiefs to reduce motorway closure times following accidents after new figures show that traffic jams on the UK’s major roads cost the economy an estimated £9bn.
Analysis by transport data company Inrix found that drivers faced 1.35m traffic jams in the past year, which is almost 3,700 per day.
The jams were calculated to cost £9bn in wasted time, fuel and unnecessary carbon emissions, based on assumptions about drivers commuting to work and fuel prices.
Highway chiefs have reportedly been told by the government to improve the system used in order to shorten the time it takes to clear motorways following accidents and incidents.
Jesse Norman, transport minister, has written to Highways England, which manages motorways and major A roads, to suggest improvements including using slip roads as contraflows in order to clear motorways of vehicles after closures.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport confirmed the letter had been sent but declined to comment further.
Mel Clarke, customer service director at Highways England, defended its record. He said: “In our first two years, we met our target to clear 85% of all incidents on our network within an hour and last year exceeded our target to keep 97% of lanes available to road users to help smooth the flow of traffic. We will continue to ensure roads are reopened safely but as quickly as possible.”
The worst queue of the year occurred on the M5 northbound near Junction 20 in Somerset on 4 August. Traffic tailed back 36 miles at the peak of the 15-hour jam, caused when an accident involving two lorries created a fuel spill and led to the closure of two lanes.
In September the M1 was closed in both directions for nine hours after a suspicious object was found under a motorway bridge during the morning rush hour.
“Fuel spillages, emergency repairs and broken-down lorries contributed to the biggest pile-ups this year,” Inrix chief economist Dr Graham Cookson said.
Next month could see a peak in traffic jams. Analysis of queues during the 12 months to August found that November 2016 was the worst, with almost 170,000 hold-ups – some 50% above average.
Cookson said: “There are so many factors that influence congestion levels, it’s hard to be certain why November was the worst month. We do know November 2016 was significantly colder than usual, in fact, the coldest month of the calendar year.