Smart motorways failing to improve traffic flow as more than half of motorists avoid driving on hard shoulders
Smart motorways are barely making a difference to improve traffic flow because more than half of drivers don’t use all the live lanes available.
Some 56 per cent of motorists polled in a new survey said they don’t use the left-most lane on a ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ or ‘all-lane running’ smart motorway when the hard shoulder is open to all traffic.
This is because more than half of drivers are unsure if they’re supposed to use a hard shoulder at the time or are simply concerned it won’t be safe, according to the study by Kwik Fit.
A poll of 2,003 UK drivers found that the majority of motorists avoid using the hard shoulder, even when the signs indicate that they should be.
The most common reason given is uncertainty over whether they should be on the hard shoulder at all, stated by 29 per cent of these drivers.
One in five motorists said they didn’t know when the hard shoulder was in use, while 13 per cent thought that you can never use the hard shoulder of a smart motorway.
Shockingly, just 42 per cent of the licence holders quizzed correctly stated that you can drive on the hard shoulder on a smart motorway only when directed by overhead signs.
Less than a third (29 per cent) correctly stated that a sign above the hard shoulder showing a speed limit indicates that it is to be used as an open lane.
Worryingly, the Kwik Fit study found more than one in seven drivers (15 per cent) believe a blank sign means the lane is open when in fact, it means the exact opposite.
Equally concerning is that 45 per cent incorrectly believed that a flashing amber lights with an arrow meant a lane was open when it is indicating to them that there’s a hazard ahead and they need to move across to the next lane.
As well as a lack of understanding, there are also plenty who admit they feel vulnerable on smart motorways and don’t want to use the hard shoulder lane because of this.
A quarter of those surveyed said they don’t use the left-most lane due to concerns that there may be a stationary vehicle ahead.
Another 24 per cent said they simply don’t think smart motorways are safe and therefore use them as they would a normal motorway with a hard shoulder.
Other reasons given by drivers who avoid the hard shoulder on smart motorways were that they don’t like driving so close to the verge (15 per cent), there could be debris at the roadside that might cause damage to their car a puncture (15 per cent), and not having an escape lane in case they have to change lanes quickly (14 per cent).
Roger Griggs, communications director at Kwik Fit, said the survey suggested smart motorways are barely likely to reduce congestion if motorists are not using them as they are intended.
‘It’s clear that if many drivers are avoiding using the hard shoulder when it’s open, then the extra capacity which smart motorways are designed to provide is not being utilised properly and we will end up being in a worse position than with the original road layout,’ he said.
‘It is vital that there is a nationwide information campaign to ensure that drivers fully understand when they can and cannot use the hard shoulder if smart motorways are to be accepted by drivers and provide a way to ease congestion – something we need desperately.’
Smart motorways have come in for heavy criticism since they were first introduced in 2006, though this has intensified in recent weeks following a growing number of cases where motorists have been killed.
Four people have been killed on the M1 in just 10 months after being hit by traffic in a live lane that used to be the hard shoulder, according to reports.
All-lane running and active dynamic hard shoulder smart motorways use the hard shoulder as an active lane to reduce congestion.
However, the bid to improve traffic flow means drivers who break down or crash only have access to ’emergency refuge areas’, which are safe lay-bys off the motorway that only appear every 1.5 miles.
If drivers are unable to make it to these emergency refuge areas they are left stricken on the motorway, and could be there for up to an hour before help arrives, according to leaked Highways England report.
In each of the four tragic cases on the M1, the victim died after failing to reach one of the lay-bys on the same 16-mile stretch of the motorway.
That’s despite operators claiming they’re safer than traditional motorways.
Earlier this year, Matt Pates, the East Midlands regional traffic operations manager for Highways England, said hard shoulders were not a ‘hospitable’ place for drivers to be and smart motorways were ‘as safe, if not safer’ without them.
In June, Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, were killed when a lorry ploughed into them after they pulled over to exchange contact details.
Mr Mercer’s widow, Claire, claims Highways England is responsible as it failed to provide her husband with a safe zone and plans to sue the government agency for corporate manslaughter.