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Just 9% of drivers feel safe on smart motorways

Peter Kelly
Jan 27, 2020

Just 9% of drivers feel safe on smart motorways, a bombshell new survey from the AA has revealed.

The survey of 17,171 drivers found that just 9% feel relaxed or safe using the motorways without hard shoulders, either permanently or as part of temporary measures when there's a lot of traffic.  

The findings from the poll have been published on the day BBC Panorama will air its investigation into the dangers of smart motorways, which reveals that 38 people have been killed on them in the last five years.


It suggests the Government was misled about their safety credentials a decade ago before they were introduced across the country.

The huge survey of drivers was conducted between 14 and 21 January this year after the AA announced it had instructed its breakdown crews not to stop to help stranded motorists on them over safety concerns.

The poll found that many motorists not only don't trust them but are also unaware of how to use different types of smart motorway.  

As well as fewer than one in 10 feeling safe and relaxed using them, just 12 per cent of drivers quizzed think smart motorways are as safe as traditional motorways and that more should be built.

Two in five (42 per cent) said they think no more smart motorways should be introduced in the UK while a further 15 per cent think all existing smart routes should be scrapped with immediate effect.


The study also revealed that 11 per cent of drivers don't understand the term 'smart motorway', 12 per cent don't understand what 'All Lane Running' (ALR) sections are and 18 per cent don't understand 'Dynamic Hard Shoulder' (DHS) road types - suggesting not enough has been done to educate drivers.

The poll found that almost three in five (57 per cent) believe the public hasn't been well-informed by Highways England about the different types of smart motorway and how to use them correctly. 

The survey also revealed that 8 per cent don't understand the term 'Emergency Refuge Area' (ERA), which are the small laybys along ALR routes for motorists to use if they do break down.

When asked how far they'd be prepared to drive a car with a punctured front tyre on a quiet motorway with no hard shoulder in place, just 11 per cent said they'd be comfortable to travel for 1.5 miles - which is the minimum distance between ERAs on smart motorways currently in place today.

The majority polled (40 per cent) said they'd only be happy to drive for up to a quarter of a mile, while a quarter (26 per cent) said they'd go no further than half a mile with a deflating tyre.


The remaining 3 per cent said they would be happy to drive for up to three quarters of a mile with a puncture. 

The AA has persistently argued that ERAs should be installed every three quarters of a mile as an absolute minimum when there is no hard shoulder, with the organisation's president, Edmund King OBE, being a long-standing critic of the introduction of motorways without hard shoulders. 

In a statement on Monday, he said: 'Drivers don't trust smart motorways and with 38 per cent of breakdowns occurring in live lanes that is not surprising.

'There is much confusion and fear out there. If the Government is not going back to the drawing board to reinstate the hard shoulder, then the least they can do is to double the number of emergency refuge areas to every three-quarters of a mile.

'The current system is not fit for purpose and too many tragic and avoidable deaths are occurring.' 

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