Drivers dumbfounded by smart motorways

A new survey has found that more than 60% of drivers think smart motorway schemes should be scrapped entirely and the hard shoulder reinstated.

The RAC Report on Motoring 2021 found that 62% of UK drivers want to abandon smart motorways while retaining the technology that manages traffic flows and detects breakdowns.

Only a quarter of the 2,600-plus drivers (24%) surveyed support the continuation of current government policy, while 63% say the measures being taken to compensate for the removal of the hard shoulder are inadequate.

Meanwhile, less than half of drivers (43%) who have driven on smart motorways feel safe on them, while 30% say they don’t feel very safe and a quarter (24%) state they feel ‘very unsafe’.

Drivers also lack confidence in the authorities’ ability to respond to breakdowns.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “Our research reveals the enormous strength of feeling among drivers of all ages about the safety of all-lane-running smart motorways. But while there’s support for scrapping these motorways across all age groups, it’s highest among those aged 45 and over, with 73% wanting to see the end of these schemes.

“The government is therefore faced with a difficult choice between continuing to roll out unpopular all-lane-running motorways very much against drivers’ wishes or  reinstating the hard shoulder, effectively creating three-lane ‘controlled motorways’ which would have the benefit of improved safety features but with less overall capacity.

“The RAC, however, believes there’s a third option worth considering which provides increased capacity without adversely compromising safety. Rather than simply scrapping dynamic hard shoulder schemes, which only open the hard shoulder to traffic at busy times of the day, these schemes could be made the new standard as they still offer somewhere to stop away from live traffic in the event of a breakdown during quieter times, while still accommodating more traffic at busy times.

“They have also demonstrated very good levels of safety. What’s more, all the technology that’s been installed for all-lane-running would continue to be of valuable use, making dynamic hard shoulder schemes even safer.

“Arguably, all that would be needed is to repaint the sold white hard shoulder line and potentially some additional gantry signs. We would also like to see the ‘red X’ closed-lane symbol illuminated whenever the hard shoulder is not being used as a running lane alongside variable message signs indicating the hard shoulder is for emergency use only so drivers clearly know it’s not in use. That way there is no confusion and anyone who has to stop due to a breakdown or incident is likely to be better protected.”