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More than two-thirds of drivers in England believe removing the hard shoulder from smart motorways compromises safety for those who breakdown in a live lane.

To increase capacity on the country’s busiest roads over one hundred miles of hard shoulder have been converted by Highways England into running lanes for traffic, many removed permanently on ‘all lane running’ smart motorways. On these stretches, SOS refuge areas are spaced up to 1.6 miles (2.5km) apart.

The RAC said its Report on Motoring 2019 whitepaper “found a considerable level of concern about the potential impact of breakdowns or accidents on safety and congestion on this new type of motorway”, the breakdown giant said.

Among those motorists who said they have driven on an ‘all lane running’ smart motorway, (72%) are worried about not being able to reach an emergency SOS area if they break down. Only 10% are not bothered by this whereas nearly a fifth (18%) didn’t have an opinion either way, it said.

Data for the RAC Report on Motoring also revealed six-in-10 drivers (59%) think the distance between SOS areas, at up to 1.6 miles (2.5km) apart, is too great, with only 13% disagreeing and 28% not expressing a view.

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Only half of drivers who have driven on an ‘all lane running’ smart motorway (51%) say they know what to do if they break down and are unable to reach a refuge area, meaning the remainder are unclear.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes, said: “Our research clearly demonstrates that many drivers have some serious concerns about certain aspects of ‘all lane running’ smart motorways. Motorists strongly believe the permanent removal of the hard shoulder compromises safety and tell us that emergency SOS areas are located too far apart at intervals of up to 1.6 miles. We have consistently highlighted our concerns about this type of smart motorway to the Government, MPs and Highways England so we hope these findings add further support to our calls for action. This is particularly relevant now as the Secretary of State for Transport has committed to reviewing the safety data from smart motorways.”

He added: “We are calling on the Government to ensure the latest stopped vehicle detection technology is retrofitted on all sections of smart motorway as a matter of urgency and for more SOS areas to be built so drivers are never more than a mile away from one. We would also like to see these measures included in all smart motorway schemes that are currently being built or planned so we have a nationally consistent standard.”