One in three drivers wants government to scrap UK’s smart motorways

Motorists call for road expansion project to be sidelined in favour of pothole repairs and better EV charging

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More than a third of British motorists think smart motorways should be scrapped, according to new research.

Drivers were questioned on what should be the policy priorities for government and local authorities in the coming year, with the controversial road projects the least popular consideration.

The study by consumer title What Car? found that just 3.6% of drivers wanted existing schemes to be complete while 37.3% wanted smart motorways to be scrapped. Drivers were far more concerned with everyday matters such as potholes and EV charging infrastructure than the ambitious road expansion programme, which has been dogged by questions over its safety.

Figures released in December show that National Highways is missing its targets for detecting stopped vehicles on all-lane running smart motorways. The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said the performance of stopped vehicle detection technology was “not working as well as it should”, and called for urgent improvements to ensure driver safety.

The ORR found that detection rates of stopped vehicles in National Highways’ five regions with all-lane running smart motorways is between 59.6% and 79.6%. The company’s target is 80%.

The What Car? survey found that while less than 4% of drivers thought completing the  smart motorway network should be a priority, more than 50% wanted authorities to focus on fixing potholes. A total of 58.9% said it was their top priority, making it the biggest concern among drivers.

Previous research by What Car? found local authorities across Britain paid out more than £12 million in compensation to motorists between 2018 and 2021 for damage caused by poor road surfaces and potholes.

Behind road repairs, the second biggest priority was improving the country’s electric vehicle charging provision. Although thousands of new chargers have been installed in the last 12 months there are concerns that the public charging network is not keeping pace with the soaring popularity of EVs. Just over 40% of drivers said improving EV infrastructure was where they wanted to see most focus.

Drivers were also concerned about fuel duty rates, with a quarter saying they wanted clarification about how the levy might change this year. There are concerns that the tax on petrol and diesel could jump by as much as 12p per litre in March, after the Office for Budget Responsibility included a 23% increase in its projections for 2023.

Steve Huntingford, editor of What Car?, said: “Smart motorways have a long way in convincing many drivers, with our research highlighting just how negative the public mood is towards the technology.

“The other priorities from drivers reflect the driving reality of today. Poor road surfaces and a lack of charging infrastructure for electric drivers, as well as continuing question marks on how things like fuel duty will be replaced in the future, should all be at the top of the checklist for policy makers.”

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