The dangers of a smart motorway breakdown / 24 June, 2018
The dangers of a smart motorway breakdown

It’s a familiar scene – a car pulled up on a motorway hard shoulder, a bored looking driver and possibly their passengers as well milling around on the grass verge, in the rain, while they await a breakdown service.

Motorway breakdown safety precautions issue clear advice:

  • pull over as quickly and safely as possible
  • make sure you and your vehicle can be seen using hazards, warning triangles and hi-visibility clothing
  • evacuate the car
  • phone for help and await assistance
  • pull away safely

But how are we supposed to interpret this advice on a smart motorway, where a previously empty hard shoulder is now filled with potentially fast moving cars?

This is a real concern for the RAC, which has claimed that the government’s plans to convert around 300 miles of hard shoulder to usable lanes will “place the lives of millions of motorists at risk.”

Smart motorways increase capacity by monitoring the flow of traffic and adjusting speed limit signs to keep it moving. Congestion can be prevented further by opening the hard shoulder to traffic.

This will cause problems for those who have broken down or suffered a blowout, who will then have to either try and reach an Emergency Refuge Area (ERA), which could be over a mile away, or remain stationary in what has become an active lane through necessity. Research from the RAC found that only 42% of drivers could reach an ERA when their vehicle was having problems.

To create further problems, 52% of over 2,000 drivers questioned by the RAC in a separate study didn’t know what an ERA was.

While the breakdown service continues to question the justification of opening hard shoulders, either temporarily or permanently, the RAC offer the following advice if you breakdown on a smart motorway:

  • Use an emergency refuge area (ERA) if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them. Different types of smart motorways have different ERA spacing, but the furthest you will be away from one is around 1.5 miles.
  • If you cannot get to an emergency refuge area, you should try to move on to the verge if there is no safety barrier and it is safe to do so.
  • In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.
  • If you stop in the nearside lane, leave your vehicle via the nearside (left hand) door if it is safe to do so, and wait behind the safety barrier if there is one. If you are unable to move over to the nearside lane, remain in the vehicle with your seat belt on.
  • If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas. If it is not possible to get out of your vehicle safely, then you should stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on and dial ‘999’ if you have access to a working mobile phone.
 *Information taken from the RAC’s website