More than a fifth of drivers say all lane running – removing the hard shoulder from Smart Motorways – is dangerous, ranking them as more dangerous than rural B roads, a new survey has found.


A major survey by the AA-Populus Driver Panel of more than 19,500 AA members found drivers ranked motorways that had the hard shoulder removed as the second most dangerous type of road.


The most dangerous type of road as ranked by AA members was an ‘unclassified, narrow lanes with passing places’, with 36% stating it was dangerous.


The poll found that only 4% of drivers felt a traditional three-lane motorway with a continuous hard shoulder was dangerous. However when the hard should is removed this jumps to 22%.


Just over one in five (22%), said a four-lane motorway without a hard shoulder but with emergency laybys every 1.5 miles (2.5km) was dangerous as was a four-lane motorway with a dynamic hard shoulder used as a running lane at peak times.


Statistically, motorways are usually the safest roads while rural roads are the most dangerous. In 2016, rural B, C and unclassified roads had 135 fatal or serious incidents per billion vehicle miles, while motorways were the safest routes with 23 fatal or serious incidents per billion vehicle miles. A-roads had 106 fatal or serious incidents per billion vehicle miles.


More frequent Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs) would calm drivers’ fears regarding all lane running schemes, the AA survey found.


In January last year, Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan wrote to the transport select committee to assert that ‘evidence demonstrates that ALR [all lane running] delivers comparable levels of safety to traditional motorways – including a significant improvement on the M25’.


He added: ‘On operational ALR schemes we will undertake a targeted programme to install a small number of additional emergency areas in locations with the highest level of potential live lane stops.


‘On future ALR schemes we will be reducing the spacing from the current maximum of 1.5 miles to a new lower maximum of 1 mile where practicable, in order to provide greater reassurance to road users.


A prototype system to automatically detect stopped vehicles is operational on the M25 J5-7 and is due to go live on junctions 23-27 this spring.


Highways England’s chief highway engineer Mike Wilson said: ‘Smart motorways are good for drivers; they add extra lanes, improve people’s journeys and are as safe as other motorways. A three year study on the M25 has shown that smart motorways are as safe as other motorways.


‘We recognise that as well as being safe, drivers want to feel safe and we are making some changes to the design including making emergency areas more visible; introducing systems that detect stationary vehicles; and raising awareness of the need to comply with lane closures. For future schemes we will be reducing the maximum space between emergency areas from the maximum of 1.5 miles to one mile, where practical. All of this is being done to help road users feel more safe.’


The AA has campaigned for more ERAs. It claims that a letter from former transport minister, John Hayes MP, last January indicated a review of ERA spacing would be published in March 2017, but a full report has not yet been produced.


AA president, Edmund King has written to roads minister Jesse Norman seeking changes to the Highway Code as it currently only describes a motorway as having three lanes with a continuous hard shoulder. Mr Norman has met with the AA to discuss their concerns.


Mr King said: ‘Motorways take a more than a fifth of UK traffic, but we believe and drivers believe, that their safety is being compromised with the removal of the hard shoulder.


‘It is concerning that drivers feel that all lane running motorways are more dangerous as rural B-roads. These are roads which you are almost six times as likely to have a fatal or serious incident on. There have been many collisions where broken down vehicles have been hit when they couldn’t reach a refuge area.


‘We want to improve capacity and ease congestion on our roads, but safety should never be compromised.’


He added that 38% of AA members polled said they avoided the new lane one on a smart motorway for fear of coming across a broken down vehicle.


There is still some way to go to convincing drivers that a mile is a distance they can cover with an ailing vehicle. More than half of drivers (55%) say that, faced with their vehicle breaking down, they are only prepared to drive up to half a mile before stopping in a live lane,’ Mr Kind added.


Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood MP said the survey ‘demonstrates that the public still has serious concerns about the safety of all lane running schemes’.


‘In June 2016, our predecessor Committee warned Government not to press ahead with ‘all lane running schemes’ while major safety concerns existed – they still exist.


‘Plans to reduce the spacing to one mile between the refuge areas in future schemes falls far short of the Committee’s recommendation that the areas should be spaced at 500-800 metres apart, as in the M42 Active Traffic Management pilot which the Committee supported. This AA survey shows qualified support from the public for refuge areas spaced one kilometre apart (0.6 miles). I would urge Highways England to review this decision.