Almost half of all drivers say they either frequently or occasionally avoid using the inside lane on ‘all-lane running’ motorways, according to new research. An RAC study of more than 1,900 drivers found 49 percent avoid using lane one on so-called ‘smart motorways’ that use all-lane running.

The RAC says the revelation “completely undermines the very reason so many hard shoulders have been permanently turned into running lanes.” The government introduced the measure in a bid to increase road capacity without the need to build wider roads, and drivers can be pulled over for ‘lane-hogging’ if they do not drive in the left-most appropriate lane, unless they are overtaking.

Overall, the RAC said a fifth (21 percent) of respondents said they frequently steer clear of the left-hand, inside lane on all-lane running roads, while 28 percent admitted to doing so occasionally. But 68 percent said they regularly see motorists using other lanes when the inside lane is free, while a further 20 percent claimed to witness this “sometimes” and five percent saying they see this behaviour “very occasionally”.

Evening traffic on busiest British motorway M25

Of those who admit to avoiding the inside lane on all-lane running motorways, 77 percent said they were worried they might encounter a stationary, broken-down vehicle, while 40 percent fear being crashed into if they break down in lane one. More concerningly, 52 percent said lane one was mostly used by HGVs and using it would lead them to overtake more frequently. By the same token, 38 percent said traffic in lane one is usually going slower than 70 mph, while 22 percent said the lane would be too congested and it was easier to drive in lane two.

Unsurprisingly, separate RAC research found 70 percent of respondents want all-lane running motorways to be scrapped in favour of schemes that allow the hard shoulder to be opened or closed depending on traffic volumes. Just seven percent want to see the motorways rolled out further, while 23 percent were undecided.

traffic on the M4 motorway near Cardiff

“Ever since the first ‘all lane running’ smart motorway opened on the M25 in April 2014 there has been a considerable amount of controversy about safety which worsened significantly following several high-profile fatal collisions,” said RAC road safety spokesperson Simon Williams. “Consequently, these roads continue to be deeply unpopular with drivers who, before their introduction, had been used to having the relative refuge of a hard shoulder available in an emergency.

“On top of this our latest research worryingly shows that half of drivers actively avoid using the inside-most lane for a variety of reasons, not least the fear of being crashed into, meaning much of the extra carriageway capacity they were meant to bring is wasted. Motorists know they should always drive in left-most lane they can, but with so many feeling theirs and their passengers’ lives are in jeopardy, it’s going to be very hard to convince them otherwise no matter how much extra safety technology is introduced.

“We strongly urge the government to abandon ‘all-lane running’ smart motorways and switch to ‘dynamic hard shoulders’ so that drivers can still benefit from increased road capacity at busy times while having somewhere to stop in relative safety in an emergency at other times.”