Drivers could be allowed to use the hard shoulder on the busiest stretches of motorway in a bid to tackle congestion, the government has announced.
The move follows a successful trial on the M42 motorway near Birmingham.
During the trial, the hard shoulder was used as an extra lane, and the speed limit was reduced to 50mph when traffic levels built up.
Sections of the M1, M6 and M62 are among the most likely to benefit from hard-shoulder running, ministers have said.
Additional locations that could be offered this in the future include the M27 around Southampton, the M4 and M5 near Bristol and sections of the M23, M20, M3 and M4 that feed into the M25.
The government has said it is also looking at other options such as having a motorway lane which cannot be used by cars with only one person inside.
The Department for Transport said the idea of a car-share lane has been successfully introduced in other countries.
Another idea is to charge drivers who have no passengers to use these lanes, although officials stressed that no decisions had been taken.
Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly also announced a further four years of funding for authorities examining local road-pricing pilot schemes.
She said: ‘The measures I’ve outlined…will tackle congestion in our towns, cities and on the motorways in a creative way which will be a win-win for the motorist.
‘But experience shows that new road capacity has to be properly managed if it is not to simply fill up.
‘There is a compelling argument for car-share or charged lanes, which have been used for some time in the US.
‘In order to get maximum benefit, access to car-share lanes is limited to vehicles carrying passengers, or single drivers willing to pay a toll. I intend to explore the possibility for taking a similar approach here where we are adding new capacity.’
Which? Car Editor Richard Headland said: ‘While we welcome innovative suggestions for easing congestion, motorists’ safety must always be the top priority.
‘Using the hard shoulder as an extra lane is sensible provided further trials can show that safety isn’t compromised
‘Drivers would also need very clear motorway signs explaining how to use certain lanes at different times of the day.’