Benefits of smart highways ‘wasted’ as drivers avoid extra lane – investigation

Nearly half (49%) of drivers say they frequently or occasionally avoid using lane one on smart highways without an emergency lane, a new survey suggests.

The RAC, which commissioned the survey of 1,904 motorists, said the research “completely undermines” the main reason for turning hard shoulder into rush lane, which was to increase road capacity.

A fifth (21%) of respondents who have driven on these all-lane smart highways said they frequently stay out of the inside left lane, while 28% said they occasionally do so.

When asked why they deliberately avoid driving in lane one, 77% said they were worried they might encounter a stationary vehicle, while 40% feared being hit if they were to stop.

Nearly three in four (74%) people surveyed said they would feel safer if there were more emergency shelter areas.

Traffic law says drivers should “keep in the left-hand lane unless overtaking”, but there have been long-standing fears about smart highways following crashes where vehicles stopped in busy lanes have been hit from behind .

Around 10% of England’s motorway network is made up of smart motorways.

They involve various methods of managing traffic flow, such as converting the hard shoulder into an active travel lane and varying speed limits.

These all-lane smart highways increase capacity at a lower cost than widening roads.

RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said: ‘Since the first all-lane smart motorway opened on the M25 in April 2014, there has been a significant amount of safety controversy which has gotten worse in significantly following several high-profile fatal collisions.

“As a result, these roads continue to be deeply unpopular with motorists who, prior to their introduction, were used to having the relative haven of an emergency lane available in the event of an emergency.

“Our latest research shows worryingly that half of motorists actively avoid using the inner lane for a variety of reasons, not least fear of being hit, meaning that much of the extra carriageway capacity they should have carry is wasted.

“Motorists know they should always drive in the furthest left lane possible, but with so many feelings that their lives and the lives of their passengers are in danger, it will be very difficult to convince them otherwise, no matter how much additional safety technology is introduced. “

National Highways has insisted that smart highways are safer than conventional highways and completed a series of improvements by the end of September.

The stationary vehicle detection technology has been adapted to all smart highways without an emergency lane.

The installation of additional signs showing the distance to the next emergency stop area has been completed, and all law enforcement cameras have been updated to allow detection of lane closure violations.

For the first time, traffic officers’ goal of reaching stationary vehicles on all-lane smart highways within 10 minutes was also achieved.

A National Highways spokesperson said: “We are committed to taking action to help drivers and their passengers feel safe and be even safer on all of our roads.

“We are taking steps to further increase trust in smart highways. We have already added technology to detect stationary vehicles and are preparing a £390m program to retrofit a further 150 emergency areas by 2025. This will represent an increase of around 50% in emergency areas, giving further driver safety”.

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