Almost two thirds of UK drivers said they want all lane running motorways to be scrapped.

The survey by the RAC crashes against the latest communication by the Transport Secretary to Parliament.

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.

Changing lanes

A quarter of the 2,600-plus drivers (24%) surveyed by the RAC support the continuation of current government policy. This means sticking to four permanent running lanes and no hard shoulder, while increasing the number of emergency refuge areas. They also call for extra technology to detect stationary vehicles. More cameras are also needed to catch motorists who put others at risk by ignoring closed-lane signs.

The research also indicates a sharp increase in safety concerns about smart motorways. Nearly a quarter of drivers (24%) cite this as one of their top overall motoring concerns, up from 16% last year. Drivers over 65 are most concerned, with 44% listing it as their top issue.

Less than half of drivers (43%) who have driven on all-lane running stretches of motorway feel safe on them. Meanwhile 30% say they don’t feel very safe and 24% state they feel ‘very unsafe’.

Road works

National Highways is implementing a number of measures to compensate for the removal of the hard shoulder. These include 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. However, only 15% of drivers believe they are adequate.

The fear of breakdown on an all-lane-running motorway is a serious worry for drivers. The permanent removal of hard shoulders is a serious issue for 84% of respondents. They believe safety is seriously compromised, up from 67% when drivers were asked in 2019.

Not impressed

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes says the research “reveals the enormous strength of feeling”.  Drivers of “all ages” have “serious concerns 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 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.