The report, by road safety charity Brake and breakdown provider Green Flag, surveyed 2,000 UK drivers to find that while three-quarters (75%) of drivers know what a smart motorway is, less than half (48%) actually know the rules for driving on one.
Alarmingly, a quarter (25%) of drivers disclosed they didn’t know what a smart motorway is, or the rules for driving on one.
The findings for drivers in England only, where smart motorways are in operation, tell a similar story: 77% know what a smart motorway is; 52% know the rules for driving on one; 21% do not know what a smart motorway is, or the rules for driving on one.
These findings reinforce the urgent need to improve public awareness of smart motorways, as acknowledged by the Government in its recent stocktake and action plan.
The plan, commissioned by the Secretary of State following an outcry over the safety of smart motorways, earmarks an additional £5m investment to improve public information and awareness and what to do in an emergency, doubling the previously planned spend.
The Brake and Green Flag report also explores issues around driver behaviour on motorways. When travelling on a motorway, it is vitally important that drivers leave plenty of room for other cars and the report found that over three-quarters (78%) of drivers leave at least a two-second gap behind the vehicle in front of them, in line with the Highway Code guidelines for safe driving**.
However, a startling 1 in 5 (18%) admit to leaving less than a two-second gap, not only endangering themselves but other road users in the process.
The report found that driver knowledge about stopping distances on motorways also has room for improvement – only a quarter (26%) of the survey respondents correctly identified that cars need 96m – or 24 car lengths - to stop if travelling at 70mph, whilst almost two-thirds (63%) incorrectly believe the stopping distance to be less.
With an average of two deaths or serious injuries every day on UK motorways, Brake and Green Flag are committed to ensuring smart motorways are as safe as possible for everyone and that drivers understand how to use them.
Joshua Harris, director of campaigns at Brake, the road safety charity, said: “These important findings confirm what we all suspected – drivers are confused about the rules of driving on smart motorways and communication efforts must urgently be stepped up to help avoid more tragic incidents on these roads.
“We welcome the measures the Government has outlined to improve smart motorway safety and urge them to follow this evidence-led approach for all UK roads. With more than 75 deaths and serious injuries on our roads, every day, improving road safety must be a priority for this Government.”
Damon Jowett, Head of Service delivery at Green Flag, said: “Motorways are a vital part of the UK’s infrastructure and are widely used by drivers across the country every day, and so the debate around smart motorways is an ongoing one.
“While the smart motorways system allows for drivers to get to their destination more easily, understanding of the rules is paramount to ensure road safety. Our latest report has highlighted concerning gaps in driver awareness, and here at Green Flag, we want to help increase driver awareness for motorway driving to ensure these roads are as safe as possible.”
Green Flag supports the recent Government review and commitment to make smart motorways safer and has joined forces with key members of the rescue and recovery industry including Highways England, to support in trying to increase driver awareness and safety on these roads
Read the full report 'Motorway driving' here.