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Millions of drivers unaware where to stop in emergencies on smart motorways

Although smart motorways are becoming increasingly common across the UK, millions of motorists are unaware what to do in the event of an emergency on them.

Smart motorway with overhead gantry

The first ‘smart’ motorway section went live in 2006 on the M42, with the hard shoulder opened up to traffic at busy times.

The research by the RAC found that 52% of those surveyed did not know what an emergency refuge area on a smart motorway was or that they should be using them in the event of a breakdown or an accident in the absence of a hard shoulder.

In addition, there was also considerable confusion about how to use emergency refuge areas, with two-thirds neither knowing what to do after stopping (64%) nor how to re-join the motorway (65%). And, even of the 1.5% who had actually used an emergency refuge area, only one respondent knew that they should contact Highways England to facilitate their getting back on to the motorway if the hard shoulder was operating as a running lane for traffic.

Highways England has run a radio advertising campaign reminding people of the correct use of emergency refuge areas and is currently conducting a review of ERAs, the findings of which will be reported in due course.

RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “It is essential that motorists understand how and when to use an emergency refuge area so they do not put their own safety and that of other road users at risk. Vehicles should pull up to the indicated mark on the tarmac or the emergency telephone and then the occupants should leave the vehicle from the passenger side. Everyone should stand behind the barriers and should use the emergency roadside telephone provided to speak to a Highways England representative.”

An RAC spokesperson added: “I think from a fleet perspective it is important for business drivers to be aware of changes like this, as with any new rules of the road. Fleet managers certainly have a role to play in terms of reminding their colleagues what to do in the event of a breakdown and how and when to use emergency refuge areas, in order that it’s absolutely clear, and safe, for the fleet driver.”

The RAC’s advice for using a smart motorway emergency refuge area is:

  • Use an emergency refuge area if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them.
  • If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas.
  • If required, a traffic officer will either be sent to help, or the motorway signs will be set to temporarily close lanes or reduce speed limits to help you re-join the motorway safely.
  • If you cannot get to an emergency refuge area but the vehicle can be driven, move it to the hard shoulder (where provided) or as close to the nearside verge or other nearside boundary as possible.
  • In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.

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For more of the latest industry news, click here.

Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.