Majority of drivers say removing the hard shoulder on Smart Motorways compromises safety

Published 29 November 2019

More than two-thirds of drivers in England surveyed by the RAC say removing the hard shoulder on ‘all lane running’ motorways compromises safety.

To increase capacity on the country’s busiest roads, over one hundred miles of hard shoulder has been converted by Highways England into running lanes for traffic, many removed permanently on ‘all lane running’ Smart Motorways.

On these stretches, SOS refuge areas are spaced up to 1.6 miles apart - which six in 10 drivers believe is too far. The RAC Report on Motoring 2019 found a considerable level of concern about the potential impact of breakdowns or accidents on safety and congestion on this new type of motorway.

The RAC surveyed 1753 drivers about the safety of Smart Motorways and 72 per cent said they were worried about not being able to reach an emergency SOS area in the event of a breakdown. Only half of drivers who have driven on an ‘all lane running’ Smart Motorway said they knew what to do if their car unexpectedly stopped, meaning the remainder (49 per cent) do not know what to do. 

When breakdowns or accidents occur on Smart Motorways, lanes are closed via a red X which is illuminated either on the digital gantries located above the lane or on verge-mounted variable message signs. This includes the inside lane, which was formerly the hard shoulder but is now a permanent running lane.

This affords broken-down drivers some protection as long as lanes are closed quickly and other motorists obey the signs. When those with experience of all lane running Smart Motorways were asked whether most motorists abide by ‘red Xs’, 62 per cent said they felt they did, but almost one-in-five claimed they did not. 

Motorway Red x

Separate RAC research conducted earlier this year revealed that more than a fifth of drivers have driven in a closed lane. Highways England is due to begin using enforcement cameras to catch those ignoring ‘red Xs’ imminently.

"We are calling on the Government to ensure the latest stopped vehicle detection technology is retrofitted on all sections of Smart Motorway as a matter of urgency and for more SOS areas to be built so drivers are never more than a mile away from one," said RAC head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes.

The research follows last month's news that the chief executive of Highways England, Jim O' Sullivan, announced that he will not expand the network any further because drivers found them too complicated to understand. He also admitted that some drivers were confused by the ALR aspect of Smart Motorways.

During 2017 and 2018 there were almost 20,000 vehicle breakdowns in live lanes on Smart Motorways and Highways England currently has no system in place to automatically detect stopped vehicles and close live lanes. In October 2019, it was reported that eight people had died on smart motorways.


gordonbennet    on 29 November 2019

Oh us poor thick as two planks drivers, motorways without hard shoulders in the dark arn't too complicated in the least for us, what they are is terrifying for the poor soul who breaks down on one.

Maybe not so bad if you are able bodied and on your own, assuming you arn't on an elevated section (remember to pack parachute) you should with a bit of luck be able to get out and over the barrier before something huge cleans what was once your car from the carriageway, nothing against competent drivers of large vehicles at all, it's simply more likely to be a HGV in the left lane and HGV's do not come with crumple zones.

If you are less able bodied or have infirm passengers or children in the car, the nightmare scenario is too horrible to imagine.
A hard shoulder was an unpleasant enough place to have to stop, but at least it wasn't a live running lane.

More and longer refuges needed, and more lighting of smart motorways, if nothing else refuges should be street lit immediately so they are more visible than current.

My current count so far is around 6 unwarned of stationary vehicles in live lanes in west mids M6 area alone, and several elsewhere, even at just over 50mph when you come upon a surprise stopped vehicle in a live lane it's shocking just how fast you are closing on it as you try to merge into the adjacent lane.

One wonders if improvements will be made to the Stafford/Stoke sections, the Coventry section, and the Northampton to Jct 13 sections currently under construction now that Jim O'Sullivan is on the case, something simple for us simple folk :-)

Guy Billyeald    on 30 November 2019

If they spent time & money educating drivers in proper use of lanes, there would be less need to increase the number of running lanes. Then, after a period of education, a bit of enforcement!

dave46    on 3 December 2019

By "the proper use of lanes" you presumably mean moving to the left hand lane whatever your speed as per Highway Code. This will put more cars driving at 70mph or more into a lane that could well have a stationary car following a break down.

Observationally, the majority of experienced drivers choose not to adopt the dangerous practice of weaving between lanes on overtaking in order to adopt your "the proper use of lanes". This is a case where the Highway Code is probably out of touch with the preferred and much safer driving practice of most motorists of choosing the lane of moving traffic most appropriate for their own speed.

Whilst moving constantly over to the left hand lane might maximise road usage, it is arguable whether it provides the safest use of motorways.

   on 30 November 2019

As previously commented, the most crazy move seen on british motorways.
Having seen the programme a long time ago it took about 2 minutes to work out how dangerous this scheme is.
This one principle is frightening enough in its own without the horrendous time taken to complete the work, the delays and inconvenience. With this in mind who took the decision to do 15 miles worth or work at a time!!
We then ofcourse get to the wasted costs.
No wonder drivers sustain the high volume of ever increasing fines.
Perhaps one thing for a new UK government to review would be priorities, including safety, which clearly was not taken into account with this scheme.
Possibly a side look towards the UKs other biggest waste of money HS2, with Brexit ofcourse completing the time/money wasting hat trick.

D Harrison    on 1 December 2019

Whoever thought the smart motorway was a good idea is clearly missing a few brain cells. As mentioned already, when you break down the odds of being near a safe area are highly unlikely and if you've had a blowout your not going to hobble along at 20 mph to get to one. When you do break down you have the impossible task of getting out to climb over the barrier assuming you are able bodied and even once over the barrier you are right next to a live lane. I refuse to drive on these smart motorways, especially in my classic cars and have reverted to using the A roads. The risk of being killed is just too high... This is one of the worst ideas to come up for decades, where has these people's common sense gone?

   on 1 December 2019

A b***** ridiculous waste of tax payers money. Should of been spent on educating dumb witted middle lane hoggers that snarl the flow of traffic.
I loathe motorway journeys now, and im happy to leave at stupid o clock in the morning to avoid the afore mentioned dim witted idiots.
Ive made countless journeys up the M42 at various times of the day only to be met with 50mph signs when the road has been clear with the lightest of traffic. Why? I dont know. Oh, wait a minute, speed cameras! I suppose its all got to be paid for somehow! How silly of me........

Rev D Love    on 1 December 2019

If you think they're dangerous to drive on, you should try working on them. Everyone I know who works on the All Lane Running sections detests them. Especially as they've removed the lighting in the majority of the sections - I mean what could possibly go wrong !!!

The powers that be may have put new ones on hold, but we're stuck with the ones that are already here.

Edited by Rev D Love on 01/12/2019 at 22:45

Austin Matthews    on 2 December 2019

I object strongly to being talked down to by the ignorant Head of Highways England.

Use of the hard shoulder as a carriageway was, from day one, the most irresponsible move anyone could have enacted. Even someone as ignorant as him should have realised that . It was always going to be a disaster waiting to happen. AVM.

OGA    on 2 December 2019

Simplistic and thoughtless response. What about more elderly or otherwise uncertain drivers, not to mention, as in the case of the M42 NEC, tourists who have arrived at the airport and hired a car and on top of having to adjust to fast moving traffic in the 'wrong' lane are now confronted by a nearside lane that one minute is a live road and the next the hard shoulder

   on 2 December 2019

I hope that Satnavs very soon have ‘Smart Motorways’ added to ‘avoidances’. ‘Smart Motorway’ is as much of a misnomer as ‘Intelligent Speed Control’.

   on 2 December 2019

Evidence is mounting as more and more people are killed as a direct result of this ridiculous initiative. A freedom of information request revealed it can take as long as 20 minutes for the highways people to change the signage to warn of a stopped vehicle in a live lane. Combined with the removal of lights (an incredibly stupid decision given the low cost of LED lighting) then it is no surprise that people are dying. Those behind this must be held responsible, their reckless ignorance and incompetence is unforgiveable and the schemes urgently need to be changed to reinstate the hard shoulder for the majority of the time with perhaps the possibility of all lane running when traffic speeds are below 30mph and it's daylight.

mishmos    on 2 December 2019

At least 20 minutes. Firstly they need to find someone who can both read and write and then hold a meeting to discuss the merits or not of changing the sign.

At junction 11 on M20 they have one of the 5 newly created customs check points which sits in a lorry park behind a shell garage. Problem is that to access the park and Shell garage you need to come off of the M20 and use a roundabout which crosses to access roads. Can't ait to see the carnage that all of these lorries blocking the access road onto the roundabout causes.

mishmos    on 2 December 2019

I regularly use the M20 heading up from the coast and whenever a car or lorry breaks down it is chaos as it slows to one lane. By the time the gormless rubber neckers have gawped it slows the flow even further.
We also have the 50 mph limit until almost at Maidstone although the foreign onanists in their lorries and cars frequently tail gate you in order to move you into the inside lane so they can go past at clearly 60 plus mph.
I have no idea what is smart about these motorways and I strongly suspect neither does anyone else.

smitham    on 2 December 2019

Most ridiculouis decision ever., What monetary saving justifies even one extra death from this stupidity. Is there anywhere that I can find out which motorways are "SMART" in order that I can avoid them

Michael Lawley    on 2 December 2019

This is a totally bonkers scheme .I was doing 70 M.P.H in the
outside lane with ' moderate ' motorway traffic' ( well, for the M42 near Solihull ) in my automatic
1.4 Nissan Micra. Suddenly I lost all drive power so I was now
'rolling'. Luckily I was able to cross 2 lanes without incident and got
onto the hard shoulder still rolling. It is now a 'smart motorway'.
What would have been my chances had this happened now !!!

gavsmit    on 2 December 2019

I don't have to use motorways much any more, but when I do it's amazing how many times there's been an accident or huge congestion caused by someone breaking down and not being able to make it into one of the ridiculous tiny pull-in bays. I pity the poor souls having to use those kinds of motorways every day.

I'd like to say people are sensible enough to deal with such a stupid idea as 'smart' motorways, but lets face it, there's a lot of very silly people out there that put the rest of us in danger all the time, so this ridiculous initiative just gives those kinds of idiots more opportunity to inflict damage and worse.

I hope the obviously incompetent and corrupt bureaucrats who are responsible for this completely dangerous mess can sleep at night from all the blood on their hands - just to dish out more fines from more advanced speed cameras and lane closure cameras (that sometimes seem to be used in a questionable way as if to fool people into being fined)......and they don't even do anything about the main issues on motorways now - criminals with cloned number plates doing what they like without punishment and completely inconsiderate idiots hogging lanes and causing accidents from encouraging undertaking!

MARTIN WARDLE    on 2 December 2019

I would appreciate any information regarding the discussions and research done by our learned superiors as to allow them to come up with the stupid and shortsighted decision to make all lanes for vehicle use. The first motorway was opened in 1958, and since then the majority have comprised of three lanes and a hard shoulder, primarily for emergency use. This is entrenched in the nations psyche and to come up with a plan to overide this thinking was short sighted and extremely dangerous, as has been proven, several, soon to be many times. If the next incident involves one of these learned brethren, I can't see many people being upset. Their motto seems to be " let's keep the traffic flowing, we can afford the odd fatality." For the system to have been even considered, the motorways would have be camera monitored every 3-400 yds (274-365Mts) and overhead warning lights, similarly spaced, like those fitted over the A38 into Birmingham .
Just a thought.

deepdale56    on 2 December 2019

Of course it "compromises safety". So does a speed limit of 70 rather than 50. But a balance has to be struck between safety and convenience, as in many areas of life.

batterseamike    on 2 December 2019

Part of the M23 is undergoing "smart" conversion and I am concerned to see that a large amount of the completed hard shoulder sections have crash barriers virtually on ther kerb! Surely a couple of feet of verg could have been kept to allow a breakdown to partially clear the lane? Aditionally there seems to be very few rescue areas in the section between M25 and Gatwick - a very busy section which often hosts breakdowns from badly maintained mini cabs. I would certainly agree with a previous contributor that the few "safe areas" available should certasinly be lit at night to establish their existance.

elfman    on 2 December 2019

Can we get these ridiculous "smart" lanes returned to their proper use as hard shoulders? If ever there was a misnomer!

CotswoldLad    on 2 December 2019

Driving coast to coast on U.S. Freeways, on seeing vehicles broken down on the hard shoulder, all other traffic using the inside lane signaled and moved out because it's obligatory in America to leave a VACANT LANE between live-lanes and the hard shoulder when there's a stationary vehicle on it. This eminently sensible rule is universally observed and must reassure stranded drivers/passengers considerably. Compare that with the crass move by Highways England, where a potentially deadly shunt can occur within seconds of a vehicle stopping in a LIVE LANE, unable to move on to a hard shoulder or reach a safer place, nowhere being completely safe on a motorway. In the Republic of Ireland, we even saw hard shoulders on A-roads, with slower speed limits than motorways! Following fatal live-lane collisions in England, Jim O' Sullivan and his colleagues should visit the mortuary alongside emergency service personnel dealing with the terrible aftermath. It may help them understand the flawed thinking behind this planned and deliberate move, one which borders on recklessness when it comes to joint culpability in any subsequent criminal or civil proceedings.

Model Flyer    on 2 December 2019

I drove along the M20 last Saturday near Maidstone that is being turneed into a "Smart" motorway ( who thought that name up ??) Nearly three miles without any safety pull-ins !! The idiot who designed them should be left stranded during a busy period and work out how to get out of harms way with either an elderly relative or a child . Ludicrous!! I would hope that any relatives of a driver who is lost due to these stupid roads will take out a summons for the head of Highways for Murder or manslaughter . I think crowd funding will certainly pay the costas I would certainly chip in .

Edited by Model Flyer on 02/12/2019 at 17:18

Rodney Tucker    on 2 December 2019

Its all about AI and computer models add an extra lane and the network has a higher capacity does not take into account where to go when your car suddenly stops. My car did it when a diesel fuel injector failed. I have driven down the new smart M3 when I am the only car in the inside lane and everybody plays safe in the right hand lane.

   on 2 December 2019

Utter insanity!
Picture a disabled driver who has broken down.
Heart thumping, trying to get out of their car, then desperately trying to get into the wheelchair, fumbling, trapping fingers, trying to do it quickly as the 40-ton lorry goes past.

Finally got into the wheelchair from the boot, now trying to time the transition from the back of the car, in between the side of the car and the adjacent lane to get in front of the car, then where? - 10 meters 50 meters down the road. Can't get over the barrier and up the bank on the left.

Then there's the young Mum with baby twins on the back seat.

Howard the Careful Driver    on 2 December 2019

Where there IS a hard shoulder we are told to get out of the car to avoid being shunted from behind - and that's the official guidance for being stationary in a lane where theoretically there shouldn't be any traffic! I had to do this several years ago on the M40 near Beaconsfield whilst waiting for roadside assistance after my fuel pump had failed in lane 3 and even that was pretty scary...

   on 2 December 2019

I dread to think what 'smart' motorways are costing the taxpayer and I sympathize with relatives and friends of those that have already died because of them. The RAC and the AA know best so why do the brain dead make the decisions? Do I suspect that, as in the 60's, when Ernest Marples of Marples Ridgeway road construction and Minister for Transport sided with Beeching to cut the rail network [and marry his daughter] that some corruption is going on. Guess what, the politicians want more railways now! I wonder who the road construction companies are 'IN' with in the Government? If you want to control traffic safely you don't invent 'smart motorways' you have overhead gantry signs stating the maximum advised speed for the conditions AND the braking distance [in car lengths] You photograph the car number plate and driver and impose huge fines for those that don't learn quickly enough.The traffic will flow, sometimes slowly, but it will not need to stop. KEEP THE EMERGENCY LANE FOR GOD'S SAKE! Mike [Design Engineer and member of the proposed Common Sense Party]

John of Gloster    on 2 December 2019

SMART MOTORWAYS created by dumb experts.

The research follows last month's news that the chief executive of Highways England, Jim O' Sullivan, announced that he will not expand the network any further because drivers found them too complicated to understand. He also admitted that some drivers were confused by the ALR aspect of Smart Motorways.


Beware ex-spurts and researchers.

TOO COMPLICATED!! Bovine excrement! They are simply dangerous given modern traffic density and vehicle sizes. That is too bluudy big and not just the six axle artics. Musn't slow gotta keep the load rolling.

Most vehicles now too big and heavy for our minuscule road network. Stand on any Motorway bridge and feel the heavy and destructive vibrations as .they pound away below. No b***** wonder there are so many road work delays everywhere repairing that expensive damage.

Most of those we now entrust to our, the Nation's and even the environments longer term safe well being are simply not fit for purpose at all levels. Here both the UK Media and Westminster classes very guilty of making matters worse with their FAKE NEWS slants tainting just about everything.

aethelwulf    on 2 December 2019

Smart motorways were a typical government cheap jack way of creating something on the cheap. Whether it was any good is irrelevant. I suspect that it was considered a few hundred deaths was worth the speeding up of most traffic. You take your life in your hands , or someone else's , every day. Make sure you do not break down. Service your car, have good tyres, never run out of fuel.The chances of being killed are small , as compared to being in Bomber Command in WW2.

sixcylinder    on 2 December 2019

Smart motorways were a typical government cheap jack way of creating something on the cheap. Whether it was any good is irrelevant. I suspect that it was considered a few hundred deaths was worth the speeding up of most traffic. You take your life in your hands , or someone else's , every day. Make sure you do not break down. Service your car, have good tyres, never run out of fuel.The chances of being killed are small , as compared to being in Bomber Command in WW2.

You hit the nail on the head !!

The only thing you forgot to mention is the Government moto, "Don't build anything of quality if you can build it cheap".

J. Mike Rose    on 8 December 2019

Smart motorways were a typical government cheap jack way of creating something on the cheap. Whether it was any good is irrelevant. I suspect that it was considered a few hundred deaths was worth the speeding up of most traffic. You take your life in your hands , or someone else's , every day. Make sure you do not break down. Service your car, have good tyres, never run out of fuel.The chances of being killed are small , as compared to being in Bomber Command in WW2.

Could not agree more. I have not yet had the misfortune, to drive on a 'smart'' motorway but with all the horror stories I read I will avoid if I can. I did however think at the time they were first 'dreamed up' that I thought they would be extremely dangerous and I immediately called them 'DIM' moterways!

Janet Jalil    on 2 December 2019

Is there a petition anywhere that we can sign and present to the cretins who devised this idea to object to these so called"smart motorways" ? A misnomer if ever I heard one!

I have just driven from London to Leicester and back today on the M1 and to say it was a nightmare is a gross understatement! The people in charge of this nonsense should be put on notice that they will be personally held responsible for any future fatalities that occur as a result of this disastrous scheme.

jmstrain    on 3 December 2019

Its totally daft to remove a place of safety on a motorway. How many more motorists are to suffer. Lets face it its about not having to spend money on an extra lane.

Plodding Along    on 3 December 2019

This is Britain, folks. The country where the leaders care not one jot for the safety and wellbeing of its citizens. The cheapest way is always the best, regardless of the lives it puts in danger. As more and more souls are lost due to Smart Motorways, maybe, just maybe, the nutcases in Westminster, Whitehall etc will think about the blood on their hands and do something.

Edited by Plodding Along on 03/12/2019 at 18:32

   on 4 December 2019

‘Too complicated’ (J.O'Sullivan, Highways England):

To blame the motorist is an affront, and sadly such statements are representative of many in high office that I refer to as 'Spinners’ (a reversion of the relatively honest spin-doctors of days long past). Those that turn the problem around 180 degrees, or simply lie, so as to deflect their responsibility back onto those affected by failed and catastrophic policies – this is perverse.

How many years will it take to recover the costs (construction, accidents and delays, during years of roadworks) whilst implementing dumb motorways? Were these costs ever evaluated, in addition to an increase in nearside accidents and fatalities? Worst of all, I assumed all smart motorways had instant stationery vehicle recognition (video & wired tarmac) so as to activate the red cross “X” almost immediately. Apparently this is NOT the case and even if such a system is working there will always be up to a mile of drivers, not forewarned, thundering towards a broken-down vehicle.

Exit at the next slip road Mr O'Sullivan.

David66    on 4 December 2019

Completely agree with previous contributor's comments, it's all about LANE DISCIPLINE! and of course the appropriate enforcement to ensure compliance. This would overnight increase the capacity of our road network significantly with no need to lose hard shoulders or create additional lanes. Pretty simple message for those who somehow passed their test without learning the basics - KEEP LEFT where there's a live lane available. Over the years and before the idea of "Smart" Motorways was ever a twinkle in some misinformed person's eye, we have had more and more outside lanes progressively added creating 4 and beyond lane motorways and I've stop counting now the times that I witness the outside couple of lanes only being used leaving the inside lanes deserted (i.e. lost capacity, more queuing traffic and reduced flow). The authorities including the police don't seem to have the will or inclination to educate drivers but are very quick however to enforce speeding transgressions (however minor) as these are "quick wins" and require very little effort. Of course the benefit of these never ending 10 or 15 mile roadworks springing up all over the place, to put in place these extremely intelligent road networks, is mile upon mile of average speed cameras almost impossible not to breach without having to constantly gaze at the speedo in a cold sweat, unless you have cruise control. Just think of all that lovely easy revenue for all those misdemeanors some of which can go back into creating new 10-15 mile stretches of roadworks! Oh you really do have to marvel at the beauty of this perfect perceptual revenue stream cycle!!!

Edited by David66 on 04/12/2019 at 17:35

lovemycar    on 6 December 2019

There a difference between 'Smart' and clever It was frightening enough to be in a broken down car, ON the hard shoulder... It would be terrifying to find your car 'smoking from an electical fire ', do you drive or stop, having had a fire... i had to stop... and terrifying for the vehicles behind coming through smoke to WHAT. Surely, so many of us drive and pay for the 'privilege' there must be a petition to roll-back this madness,There are... many people have tried to start a petition, this one went 'live', I think it should have concentrated on just one issue at a time: SMART, in any case, others trying to be launch, were halted it seems because this one existed. And then.......... You can't run petitions concurrently, and you all think you run a country? (and they still all want us to vote for them).

The status now: Closed petition Scrap Smart Motorways in England and stop the 40pmh regular speed restrictions.

Stop Highways England from opening the hard shoulder and stop the unnecessary 40mph speed limit, which is used by Highways England regularly without any incident and for several miles at a time, bringing traffic to a standstill, creating pollution and adding to journey time, doubling in some cases.

This petition closed early because of a General Election Find out more on the Petitions Committee website

764 signatures

   on 19 January 2021

We are looking at this problem of smart motorways all wrong.
Just take the people who are involved in this idea to court and then jail them for breaking Health and Safety law and causing harm to the public.
It's a very educated but under commonsensed person's idea and they need some life skills.

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