Independent watchdog Transport Focus has called on Highways England to up its game in educating motorists how to use smart motorways.
Citing research that shows few drivers know for sure what to do if they break down on a motorway with no hard shoulder, the organisation wants Highways England to roll out a more concerted driver education programme.
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Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, 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.”
Worryingly, not many motorists think about safety at all when discussing smart motorways – it only arose when prompted by Transport Focus during research.
The organisation thus wants Highways England to:
- Help drivers understand smart motorways and their various features
- Reassure them that motorways with no hard shoulder are safe even if you break down
- Speed up implementation of the new emergency refuge orange surface and signage
“Road users tend to trust that ‘the authorities’ would not allow motorways without a hard shoulder if it was unsafe” said Smith. “Highways England must remain vigilant that their trust is not misplaced.”
What do motorists say about smart motorways?
Some of the feedback from Transport Focus’ research showed that although millions of people are using smart motorways, worryingly few of them actually understand them.
- “I still see at least once a week someone driving on the hard shoulder when there’s a red X on it. It’s obvious but I get the feeling many drivers don’t know about it.” Leeds, frequent business user
- “Touch wood, I’ve never broken down on a motorway. If I did break down, yes, I can see there being some risk of someone coming into the back of you.” Birmingham, infrequent leisure user
- “The smart motorway network is good for me because I’m used to it. I feel confident driving [on them].” Birmingham, HGV
- “I didn’t know that you could get penalised for being in a red X, even though it is self-explanatory and wouldn’t be doing it.” Leeds, frequent leisure user
Are you unsure about how to safely use a smart motorway – or do you have concerns about the number of people using them incorrectly? Share your thoughts and observations with us below.