Drivers avoid the left hand lane

Worries over smart motorway safety leads drivers to avoid live running hard shoulders

An increasing number of drivers are taking their own precautionary measures when using smart motorways.

A new study by Kwik Fit has found that 73% of British drivers say they avoid driving on the hard shoulder of a smart motorway. This is happening even when signs show that it is open for traffic. The proportion of drivers  acting this way has increased from 56% when the company asked the same question in 2019.

Sign of the times

While understanding of the smart motorway signage appears to have improved in the last two years, safety worries have increased significantly. Concerns over potential stationary vehicles ahead is the most common reason for avoiding the live lane hard shoulder (31%). The second most frequent response was they don’t think that smart motorways are safe. In both cases it means drivers drive as if it’s a normal motorway, cited by 30%.

In 2019, 29% of drivers avoiding the live lane hard shoulder blamed unclear signage. Kwik Fit’s new research has seen this fall to 22%, indicating a greater familiarity with the smart systems. Yet it means that one in five drivers who don’t use the hard shoulder say they are still not confident they understand the signage.

19% of drivers admitted they were concerned about having no escape route to their left hand side if they have to change lanes quickly. Meanwhile, 17% say they don’t like driving so close to the verge, while 15% are worried about damage from debris on the hard shoulder.

Facing fears

Discussing the government’s plan to pause the introduction of any new smart motorways, more than one in three (36%) people believe smart motorways are more dangerous. Furthermore, rather than any pause, permanent hard shoulders should be reinstated as soon as possible. One in five (22%) people in the research think pausing to allow more data to be gathered on their safety is a sensible approach as it is unclear whether smart motorways are more or less safe than traditional motorways.

However, 5% of people believe that smart motorways are as safe or safer than traditional motorways. They also believe all motorways should be converted to smart motorways wherever possible. On the other side, 6% of people believe that smart motorways are more dangerous but this is justified if they reduce congestion.

Congestion problems should be tackled in a different way according to 12%. They think that the money invested in smart motorways should be spent on improving public transport.

Perhaps cynically, 5% of those surveyed feel that the pause is to let any controversy around smart motorways die down. This would then enable more to be introduced when the issue isn’t such a hot topic.

The way forward

Roger Griggs, communications director at Kwik Fit, says the pause is “absolutely correct”. It will allow the government to “both gather data and ensure that the UK’s motorways are as safe as possible.

Griggs continues: “It is clear that many drivers are yet to be convinced about the safety of smart motorways. Therefore, there must be clear transparency about all the data being gathered and the evidence on which future decisions are based.

“In the meantime, drivers must ensure they stay protected.”


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