The online survey carried out by road safety charity IAM Roadsmart found that 84 per cent of respondents felt unsafe about the motorway system, which involves opening the hard shoulder as an additional lane to ease traffic congestion and using signage to warn motorists of incidents ahead.
The smart motorway scheme rollout has been controversial, prompting safety concerns about their ability to detect accidents following several road deaths in recent years where motorists have stopped on an opened hard shoulder.
Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said in January this year that smart motorways presented an “ongoing risk of future deaths”, following the deaths of Jason Mercer and Alexandru Murgeanu on the M1 near Rotherham.
An inquest into the death of 62-year-old Nargis Begum, who died after a car she was travelling in broke down and was hit on a live lane, has also been referred onto the Crown Prosecution Service to consider grounds for investigating Highways England for possible corporate manslaughter charges.
The findings are indicative of “greater awareness” of the potential safety risks of smart motorways, according to Claire Mercer, who has been campaigning for Highways England to halt the rollout following the death of her husband Jason Mercer, 44, in June 2019.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, she said: “This just goes to show the awareness that has spread now of how unsafe these are.
“When I first started the campaign, I had a lot of messages from people arguing in their defence not realising how dangerous it is to close the hard shoulder. This isn’t about dangerous drivers – anyone can die on a smart motorway.”
Last month, lawyers for Mrs Mercer issued an independent report to Highways England and the Department for Transport highlighting the safety issues regarding smart motorways.
It follows a report in March last year by the Secretary of State however, which published in-depth evidence showing fatal casualty rates on smart motorways without a permanent hard shoulder were lower than for those with one, while the serious casualty rate is slightly higher.
The results of the IAM Roadsmart poll also revealed that 81 per cent of motorists feel less safe on smart motorways than they do on regular motorways, while, of the 4,500 respondents, 81 per cent also felt hard shoulders should be reinstated. Some 40 per cent said they did not notice an improvement in their journey times on smart motorways.
Neil Greig, of IAM RoadSmart, said: “Our members include many high mileage, experienced and confident motorway users but the results of this survey are clear to see, with the vast majority having very little, or no confidence, in the safety of smart motorways.”
A Highways England spokesman said: “We recognise there are ongoing concerns about smart motorways and are determined to do all we can to make all drivers both feel safe and be safer on our roads.
“Our motorways are among the safest in the world, and the Government’s evidence stocktake established that in most ways smart motorways are at least as safe as, or safer than, the conventional motorways they replaced. But not in every way.
“So we are taking forward the measures the Transport Secretary has set out in his 18-point smart motorways action plan which includes providing more and better information for drivers, with our current £5million TV and radio campaign and planned updates being made to The Highway Code.”
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