Drivers are avoiding using the open hard shoulder on all lane running smart motorways, new research has revealed.

In an analysis of 2,003 drivers by Kwik Fit, 56% of respondents said they avoid driving on the hard shoulder of an all lane running smart motorway when it’s open.

While 29% of those said their reason for this was uncertainty over whether or not they were allowed to drive on the hard shoulder, safety was the main concern for many other respondents.

Some 25% said they avoid driving on the hard shoulder in case there’s a stationary vehicle somewhere ahead, while 24% cited a worry they have that smart motorways as a rule aren’t safe and they therefore feel more comfortable treating them as they would a conventional motorway.

In addition, 15% said they don’t like driving too close to the verge, while another 15% were concerned about debris on the hard shoulder causing damage to their car or puncturing a tyre. Furthermore, 14% said they wanted to avoid a situation where they couldn’t change lanes quickly in an emergency.

On the topic of uncertainty, 20% of drivers surveyed said they didn’t know when the hard shoulder was in use as a running lane, while 13% believed you couldn’t drive on the hard shoulder at any time. Only 42% of respondents were able to correctly state that one can only drive on the hard shoulder when directed to do so by the overhead signs.

A mere 29% of respondents were aware that a speed limit sign above a lane meant that lane was open. Furthermore, 45% of respondents thought a sign with flashing yellow lights and an arrow pointing down and left meant a lane was open, when it actually means there is an obstruction ahead and drivers should move into the lane on their left.

Roger Griggs, communications director at Kwik Fit, commented: “These findings reflect the concerns and uncertainty that many drivers have when driving on smart motorways. It’s clear that if many drivers are avoiding using the hard shoulder when it’s open, then the extra capacity which smart motorways are designed to provide is not being utilised properly and we will end up being in a worse position than with the original road layout.

“It is vital that there is a nationwide information campaign to ensure that drivers fully understand when they can and cannot use the hard shoulder if smart motorways are to be accepted by drivers and provide a way to ease congestion – something we need desperately.”