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Majority of drivers want smart motorways to be scrapped

Highways England, smart motorways, smart motorway emergency refuge area, ERA.

Almost two thirds of UK drivers said they want all lane running motorways to be scrapped, in a recent poll by the RAC.

Research carried out for the RAC Report on Motoring found that six in 10 drivers (62%) think that all-lane-running smart motorway schemes should be scrapped entirely and the hard shoulder reinstated.

A quarter of the 2,600-plus drivers (24%) surveyed by the RAC support the continuation of current government policy, which is to stick to four permanent running lanes and no hard shoulder, while increasing the number of emergency refuge areas and including extra technology to detect stationary vehicles and cameras to catch motorists who put others at risk by ignoring closed-lane signs.

The RAC research also indicates a sharp increase in safety concerns about smart motorways with 24% of drivers citing this as one of their top overall motoring concerns, up from 16% last year. Drivers over 65 expressed the most concern about the issue, with 44% listing it as their top concern. Less than half of drivers (43%) who have driven on all-lane running stretches of motorway feel safe on them, while 30% say they don’t feel very safe and a quarter (24%) state they feel ‘very unsafe’.

National Highways is implementing a number of measures to compensate for the removal of the hard shoulder – such as variable speed limits in response to incidents or to control traffic flow, closed-lane signs, SOS emergency refuge areas up to every 1.6 miles apart and technology to detect slowing or stationary vehicles – but only 15% of drivers believe they are adequate.

The fear of what would happen in the event of a breakdown on an all-lane-running motorway weighs heavy on drivers’ minds, with 84% of respondents believing that safety is compromised by the permanent removal of the hard shoulder – up from 67% when drivers were last asked this in the 2019 RAC Report on Motoring.

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.

“We’ve always had safety concerns about all-lane-running motorways and have raised these by giving evidence to two separate Transport Committee inquiries. While the Government published its 18-point action plan in 2020, the RAC has continued to push for new safety features to be introduced as quickly as possible. Although much of the plan is on track and the installation of crucial stopped vehicle detection technology is now due to be completed ahead of schedule, it seems the only thing that will truly satisfy most drivers is the re-instatement of the hard shoulder.”

The RAC believes there’s an alternative option that 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.

Earlier this month, the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) published a report that backs up claims by National Highways that smart motorways are the safest roads in the country in terms of fatalities.


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