Removing hard shoulders on smart motorways has made them more dangerous, according to a survey of drivers by the AA.
Eight out of 10 of the 20,845 respondents felt that by opening up hard shoulders to traffic as part of all-lane running motorway programmes, authorities had increased the risk for drivers whose cars had broken down and who had nowhere out of the flow of traffic to park up.
The government is creating smart motorways across the UK to increase road capacity in the face of rising traffic. Such sections work by opening up the hard shoulder to traffic during busy times. The idea was successfully implemented on the M42 from 2006.
However, the government is now considering future schemes that include those with hard shoulders permanently opened to traffic. In addition, guidance from Highways England for subsequent programmes has seen lower requirements for the amount of distance between lay-bys – officially known as Emergency Refuge Areas – from every 800m, as on the M42, to up to 2.6km (1.5 miles). Campaigners say this drastically reduces safety for cars that break down.
The AA says 130,000 of its members' vehicles break down on motorways each year, and it wants to see twice as many lay-bys as is currently recommended to reduce the risk of cars being hit from behind on a live hard shoulder. It also wants lay-bys to be twice as long because it believes that if an HGV is parked in a layby it makes it almost impossible for a car to safely stop there too.
Highways England has previously reported issues with drivers, especially foreign truckers, parking in laybys despite there being no emergency.
AA president Edmund King said: “Four-fifths of our members think that motorways without hard shoulders are more dangerous.
“While we support measures to improve motorway capacity, we do not think safety should be compromised. We do not accept that the current criteria of an Emergency Refuge Area or exit at least every 2.6km is safe.
“Breaking down in a live running lane with trucks thundering up behind you is every driver’s worst nightmare. The official advice is to dial 999, which just shows how dangerous the situation can be.
“If drivers can see the next lay-by, they are much more likely to make it to the relative safety of that area even if their car has a puncture or is overheating. If they can’t see the lay-by, they often panic and stop in a live running lane. If more lay-bys are designed at the planning stage it will be less expensive and safer.”
Mr King said he had written to Transport Minister Chris Grayling, expressing his concern, and had not yet received a response. Mr King also gave evidence to a cross-party Transport Committee earlier this year, which released a report in June saying that the Department for Transport should not proceed with smart motorways until the safety concerns had been addressed. Mr King said he had not yet seen a government response to the report.
However, the government gave the go-ahead for all lane running on a 32-mile stretch of the M4 earlier this month.
A spokesman for the DfT said that it had responded to the Transport Select Committee’s report, and that it was up to the committee to publish the response at the time of their choosing.
The spokesman pointed to all lane running on the M25 as evidence that the practice was safe, but said Highways England was monitoring all schemes and will continue to seek ways to improve them further.
“We have some of the safest motorways in the world and are always looking at ways to make them safer,” he said. “In the first year on the M25 all lane running has tackled congestion, cut collision rates by nearly a fifth and reduced casualties by 21% – showing they are at least as safe as an ordinary motorway.”