Working in partnership with London TravelWatch

Transport User Voice – ‘Help me understand how smart motorways work’ say drivers

29 September 2017

Drivers need more help to understand smart motorways, is the finding of our new road user research.

We’re now calling for Highways England to do more to increase drivers’ knowledge about what a red X means and about what you should do if you break down.

Speaking to drivers we found that when it came to motorways without a hard shoulder, safety was not at the forefront of their minds and only came up when the subject was specifically explored. However, few drivers knew for sure what they should do if they were to break down where there is no hard shoulder.

Transport Focus is now calling on Highways England to:

  • do more to help drivers understand what smart motorways are designed to achieve and how their various features work for the benefit of road users
  • reassure road users that motorways with no hard shoulder are safe, even if you break down
  • roll out the orange surface and new signage to emergency refuge areas as quickly as possible, if current trials are successful.

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.

Road users tend to trust that ‘the authorities’ would not allow motorways without a hard shoulder if it was unsafe. Highways England must remain vigilant that their trust is not misplaced.

What do drivers say?

One frequent business user in Leeds told us: “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.”

While another driver from Birmingham said: “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.”

The red X also provided a source of confusion when speaking to drivers. One driver in our focus groups from Leeds said: “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.”

Click here for Transport Focus’s research, Getting to the heart of smart: road user experiences of smart motorways.

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