Half of drivers say they frequently or occasionally avoid using lane one on ‘all lane running’ smart motorways.
It’s a revelation that completely undermines the very reason so many hard shoulders have been permanently turned into running lanes: to increase road capacity.
RAC research with 1,904 drivers on ‘all lane running’ smart motorways, found a fifth (21%) claimed to have frequently steered clear of the left-hand, inside lane while 28% admitted to doing so occasionally.
A majority of drivers (68%) also said they regularly see motorists using other lanes when the inside lane is free, with a further 20% claiming to witness this sometimes and 5% very occasionally.
Asked why they deliberately avoid driving in lane one, an overwhelming three-quarters (77%) of drivers say they are worried they might encounter a stationary, broken-down vehicle as there is no hard shoulder while 40% are fearful of being crashed into if they had to stop.
The second most common reason for not using the inside-most lane on an ‘all lane running’ motorway, cited by 52% of drivers, was the belief that it is mostly used by HGVs and would lead to them frequently having to overtake.
Similarly, 38% say traffic in lane one is usually going much slower than 70mph and one-in-five (22%) state it is usually too congested so it’s easier to stick in another lane. A further 18% claim it’s just ‘easier’ to drive in lanes two, three and four.
When questioned about what could be done to improve safety on ‘all lane running’ smart motorways three-quarters of drivers (74%) say they would feel safer if there were more refuge areas – with such areas a necessity on these stretches of road in the absence of the hard shoulder.
Seventy-two per cent would be reassured by technology that detects stranded vehicles while 56% want to see more gantry signs which show the speed limit and whether lanes ahead are closed.
Fifty-six per cent also want cameras to be used to enforce the ‘red X’ closed-lane signs, something which is only just beginning despite almost all cameras having been ready to do this since April this year.
Almost half (45%) believe more control centre staff monitoring these roads are needed and more than a third (37%) would like to see more National Highways patrol officers up and down the carriageways.
But, for an adamant 15% of those surveyed nothing can be done to make them feel safer.
National Highways, which is responsible England’s major roads, now has 122 enforcement cameras automatically detecting vehicles which ignore red-X lane-closed signs which are displayed when there is an incident in the lane ahead.
The organisation is also rolling out radar technology to help identify stopped or broken-down vehicles on ‘all lane running’ smart motorways more quickly and effectively.
Separate research for the 2022 RAC Report on Motoring found that a clear majority of drivers (70%) want to see ‘all lane running’ smart motorways scrapped.