Public confidence in all-lane-running (ALR) smart motorway schemes appears to be collapsing, with 84% of drivers believing that safety is compromised by the permanent removal of the hard shoulder.
The new figures from the RAC also suggest less than one in three trust National Highways’ ability to detect a stationary vehicle in a running lane and react accordingly.
The RAC said 62% of drivers questioned for its Report on Motoring 2021 think ALR schemes should be scrapped entirely and the hard shoulder reinstated, while retaining the technology that manages traffic flows and detects breakdowns.
Only a quarter of the 2,600-plus drivers (24%) surveyed support current government policy, which is to stick to four permanent running lanes and no hard shoulder, but increase the number of emergency refuge areas and include extra technology to detect stationary vehicles.
The government also want to see cameras used to catch more motorists who put others at risk by ignoring closed-lane signs.
The motoring organisation said its 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.
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.
‘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 said the figure of 84% of drivers believing that safety is compromised by the permanent removal of the hard shoulder is up from 67% when drivers were last asked this in 2019.
More than six in 10 (63%) of drivers think the typical distance between emergency areas of up to 1.6 miles/2.5km is too great, up from 55% in 2019.
Despite Highways England’s ‘Go Left’ campaign in March 2020, less than half of drivers (46%) say they know what to do in the event of breaking down in a live lane, almost unchanged on the 2019 figure (49%).
Drivers also lack confidence in the authorities’ ability to respond to live-lane breakdowns or incidents. Just 30% of motorists say they trust National Highways’ abilities to detect a stationary vehicle in a running lane and react accordingly, down from 53% in 2019.
Mr Lyes said the Government is faced with a difficult choice between continuing to roll out unpopular all-lane-running motorways or reinstating the hard shoulder, effectively creating three-lane ‘controlled motorways’.
However, he suggested that a third option was making dynamic hard shoulder schemes, in which the hard shoulder is opened to traffic at busy times of the day, the new standard.