Smart motorways and hard shoulders causing headaches for drivers

Smart motorways and hard shoulders causing headaches for drivers

The hard shoulder has been a staple of modern highways for as long as most of us have been driving. For decades it’s provided a refuge for cars and drivers in distress, a welcome safe area to take stock of things and remove themselves from traffic moving at dizzying speeds.

With the advent of smart motorways though, things have changed. The hard shoulder on many motorways has changed from being a permanent refuge to a more dynamic space that can may even serve as an active lane of traffic. A recent study shows that many UK drivers are confused by hard shoulders on smart motorways, leading to headaches for everyone involved. Whether you’re planning to hire a car or van for a long motorway journey, or you’re simply driving your own, the results are worth a read.

What did the study reveal?

According to the study by Highways England, over half (56%) of all British motorists reported that they avoid driving on the hard shoulder on smart motorways, even when signs indicate it’s open for traffic. That’s not because they simply don’t want to, but because they’re worried about safety and unclear on exactly when the hard shoulder is being used as an additional lane.

What’s more, almost a quarter (24%) of drivers surveyed also considered smart motorways to not be safe enough. Because of this, they said they tend to drive on them as if they were regular motorways, not making use of the additional perks. This is one of the main reasons they’re not using the hard shoulder when they could be.

Other factors include an under­stan­dable reluctance to drive as close to the verge as the hard shoulder tends to involve (15%), an equally under­stan­dable worry about debris hitting their car (15), and being ‘boxed in’ - in other words, not having another lane to switch to quickly if something goes wrong (14%).

Notably, 13% of drivers were still under the impression that using the hard shoulder of a smart motorway remained illegal.

What are the rules for hard shoulders on smart motorways?

If any of this sounds familiar to you, let’s take a second to clear some of them up. The government says that you can drive on the hard shoulder of any hard motorway whenever the signage shows it’s in use. It will also show you the speed limit for this lane. If you can’t see that it’s in use, only use the hard shoulder in emergencies as you would on a normal motorway.

Smart motorways remains a hugely contro­ver­sial issue at the moment, and the government is actively working on helping to make things clearer, easier and safer for drivers. We’ll keep you posted of any major future updates. In the meantime, if you’re looking to hire a van, car or minibus for an upcoming journey, you’re in exactly the right place. We offer short-term, long-term and Flexi-hire services at competitive rates. Find out more here on our website or get in touch on 01254 57811, and we’ll be happy to help.

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