Breakdown lane usage pilot project ahead

Drivers might be allowed to use the breakdown lane of motorways in Austria from next year.Klaudia Niedermühlbichler, a spokeswoman for road administration authority Asfinag, revealed today (Thurs) a plan to start running tests on the A4 eastern motorway between Vienna and Schwechat in Lower Austria in 2012.There has been discussion over whether motorists should get the green lights to use the breakdown lanes in dense traffic to avoid tailbacks. Such actions are currently an offence for which drivers are fined up to 50 Euros. Critics warned that ambulances would be barred from reaching accident victims if drivers were allowed to use all available lanes of motorways.Niedermühlbichler explained that the project depended on whether the federal parliament agrees on changing the Austrian road traffic act in time. She added Asfinag could implement the same change of rules on other motorways or even a countrywide reform of traffic laws if the test is a success.The idea is regarded as an alternative to motorway construction projects since Asfinag has been struggling with keeping its finances in order. Asfinag reduced its investments in roadwork and motorway maintenance by 200 million Euros last year after having spent one billion Euros in 2009. The state-owned firm’s debts soared by 600 million Euros to nearly 12 billion Euros last year.Studies have shown that the federal state debt would be almost 10 per cent higher than the current 72 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) if the business figures of Asfinag and other state-owned firms like Federal Railways (ÖBB) were considered.The European Union’s (EU) financial authorities have been negotiating whether tougher regulations should be implemented to prevent member states from outsourcing loss-making firms which are owned by the state. Several of the EU’s 27 member countries – including Austria – have been able to present better annual state budget statistics by doing so for years.