The majority of UK motorists think all-lane running motorways should be scrapped to improve the country’s road safety record. That’s according to new research by the RAC, which found almost two-thirds of drivers think the scheme, which sees hard shoulders turned into ‘live’ lanes, should be canned.

It’s the latest indictment of so-called smart motorways, which have attempted to increase capacity on the network by turning the hard shoulder into a running lane, then adding overhead gantries that can control traffic flow by closing lanes or changing the speed limit and enforce the changes using cameras.

Although there has been opposition to the new roads, with safety concerns even causing the government to change its policy, smart motorways continue to operate in the UK. However, the Department for Transport (DfT) has stopped the rollout of so-called ‘dynamic’ hard shoulders, which can be used as live lanes or conventional hard shoulders, depending on weight of traffic.

UK smart motorway network

Now, the RAC’s study of more than 2,600 drivers has found 62 percent want the all-lane running policy to be cancelled, despite the government’s commitment to keep the scheme and add more emergency refuge areas. However, the RAC says respondents wanted to keep the technology that detects breakdowns and manages traffic flow.

Just under a quarter of respondents (24 percent) said they wanted to keep the all-lane running policy, backing the idea of four permanent running lanes and no hard shoulder, while increasing the number of emergency refuge areas and adding extra technology to detect stationary vehicles or catch motorists who ignore the ‘red X’ lane closure signs.

UK smart motorway network

However, 63 percent of those questioned said they do not think the measures implemented by National Highways – the government-run company in charge of the UK’s motorways and major A-roads – are sufficient. Variable speed limits, closed-lane signs, emergency refuge areas up to 1.6 miles apart and technology to detect slowing or stationary vehicles are all part of the organisation’s arsenal, but just 15 percent said they thought they were adequate, while a fifth (21 percent) said they were unsure.

The RAC’s research also shows smart motorways have become one of UK motorists’ key concerns, with 24 percent of those questioned putting the roads at the top of their list. Less than half (43 percent) of those who have used the roads said they felt safe, while 24 percent said they felt ‘very unsafe’. And the vast majority (84 percent) said the removal of the hard shoulder was detrimental to safety, while 63 percent said the typical distance between emergency refuge areas (1.6 miles) is too great.

UK smart motorway network

“Our research reveals the enormous strength of feeling among drivers of all ages about the safety of all-lane-running smart motorways,” said RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes. “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 reinstatement of the hard shoulder.

“The government is therefore 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’ that would have the benefit of improved safety features but with less overall capacity.

“The RAC, however, believes there’s a third option, which 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. They have also demonstrated very good levels of safety.”