The first of a new-style smart motorway emergency area, where drivers can stop in an emergency, is being trialled on the M3 in Surrey.
The redesigned emergency area has a highly visible orange road surface and better signs in order to help improve its visibility make it more obvious to drivers on smart motorways. It is also hoped that it will encourage drivers to only use them in emergency situations.
The first of the new emergency areas is near Camberley and Highways England say more upgrades are planned should the trial be successful. This change is part of an ongoing review into the design and spacing of emergency areas on smart motorways that is due to report in the autumn.
Highways England Chief Executive Jim O’Sullivan said, “We know that smart motorways are safe. But we also recognise that drivers need to have confidence when using them and be clear about where they can stop in an emergency.
“That is why we are trialling these highly visible new style emergency areas. The bright orange colouring will make them as easy as possible to spot and should also discourage drivers from using them in non-emergency situations.
“This is just one of the ways we are helping drivers to understand smart motorways and their benefits. I hope it helps drivers feel more confident about using a smart motorway.”
Highways England says the redesigned emergency area supports its drive to improve awareness of smart motorway driving, including what to do in an emergency and when to use an emergency area. It sits alongside a national TV, radio and social media campaign covering key themes such as not driving in lanes closed by Red X signs, how to stop in an emergency and the importance of carrying out appropriate vehicle checks, like checking fuel levels, before setting out on a journey to avoid unnecessary breakdowns.
It says if the redesigned emergency areas are successful and drivers find the changes beneficial, more orange emergency areas will be introduced across England’s network of smart motorways.
The RAC says it welcomes the trial, with its road safety spokesman Pete Williams saying, “Breaking down on a motorway can be an incredibly frightening experience. This is heightened by the lack of understanding of what to do on new smart motorway sections due to concerns about where to find safety when there is no hard shoulder or it is operating as a running lane.
“Smart motorways are becoming an increasingly common feature of our motorways across England as they are rolled-out in effort to tackle congestion but there is still a good deal of misunderstanding about what to do in the event of a breakdown or an accident.
“Today’s announcement by Highways England that it is trialling a bright orange SOS-signed emergency refuge area (ERA) is good news as this will significantly improve visibility and make it easier for drivers to find a place of relative safety. The planned development also includes a clear indication of where to stop, additional distance markers between ERAs, and better signage with the internationally recognised SOS acronym to improve understanding of how they should and shouldn’t be used. We hope this will be rapidly adopted across existing and all new smart motorways.
“We remain concerned about the long distances between ERAs on many smart motorways where the hard shoulder has been permanently removed and believe that safety would be further enhanced by additional ERAs to reduce the likelihood of vehicles being stranded in live lanes.”