Drivers need more help to understand smart motorways, according to independent watchdog Transport Focus.
It said Highways England should do more to increase drivers’ knowledge about what to do if they break down and what a red X means.
Transport Focus’ research, Getting to the heart of smart: road user experiences of smart motorways, found that safety on motorways without a hard shoulder was not at the forefront of drivers’ minds, while few knew what they should do if they break down on one.
One driver said: ‘I still see at least once a week someone driving on the hard shoulder when there’s a red X on it.’
Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘What’s been missing until now is an understanding of how road users experience smart motorways.
‘The message to Highways England is that many millions of drivers successfully use smart motorways, but there is more to do to improve their understanding of how they work and what you should do if you break down.
‘Road users tend to trust that “the authorities” would not allow motorways without a hard shoulder if it was unsafe. Highways England must remain vigilant that their trust is not misplaced.’
Transport Focus called on the Government-owned company to:
- do more to help drivers understand what smart motorways are designed to achieve and how their various features work for the benefit of road users
- reassure road users that motorways with no hard shoulder are safe, even if they break down
- roll out the orange surface and new signage to emergency refuge areas as quickly as possible, if current trials are successful
Mike Wilson, chief highways engineer at Highways England, said: ‘We recognise motorists need to be confident using smart motorways, and are already making improvements such as improving signs and painting emergency areas bright orange. We also have an ongoing campaign aimed at improving understanding and making it clearer where drivers can stop in an emergency.
‘We welcome Transport Focus views and will combine them with our own insight to continue to raise awareness and build confidence among drivers.’
The smart motorway brand includes original ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ schemes where traffic can use the hard shoulder only at times of congestion, all-lane running schemes where the hard shoulder is in use as a live lane but there are emergency refuge areas, and controlled motorways, which are essentially conventional motorways with technology to smooth traffic flow.