Motorists are still confused about smart motorways 12 months after their introduction to England, road safety experts fear.
Road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has warned many drivers are still ‘nervous’ about using the high-tech routes, which manage congestion through lane controls and overhead signalling without the need for a hard shoulder.
England’s first ‘all-lane running’ motorway opened this time last year on 2.5km of road to the north of the M25, with similar schemes opening across sections of six motorways since then.
It is likely their deployment will only increase, with Highways England starting 15 smart motorway projects covering 480 lane miles by 2020.
This is expected to deliver a network of routes centred around connections between the key cities of Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol and London.
However IAM said greater effort was needed to raise knowledge about smart motorways in drivers, who often did not understand how they worked.
An IAM survey last year found 71% of drivers said they would feel less safe on a motorway without a hard shoulder compared to a motorway with one. Two in five respondents said they were sceptical that new smart motorway systems would provide protection if they broke down in a running lane.
The charity’s chief executive, Sarah Sillars, said many motorway users were ‘still confused and nervous about using SMART motorways – if they are aware of them at all’.
‘Highways England must analyse incident data on a continuous basis and ensure that any lessons learned from the real world use of SMART motorways are implemented quickly,’ she added.
‘Ultimately, the smartest way to build awareness would be to allow learner drivers to use motorways under expert supervision.’
A Highways England spokesperson said there was ‘a wealth of driver information’ available on smart motorways, which were ‘maintaining or improving safety’ and granting additional capacity on some of ‘the safest roads in the world’.
‘We work very closely with our key partners, such as the Institute of Advanced Motorists, on sharing information with road users about smart motorways and in promoting safer driving behaviour through initiatives such as our Red X safety campaign earlier this year,’ the spokesperson added.