According to the RAC, many drivers are unaware of the procedure when it comes to using a Smart Motorway! With these becoming more and more common in the UK, and major routes being upgraded to the new specifications, it’s important as drivers we understand how to use these. By 2020, many more existing motorways are expected to have been upgraded to smart motorways, providing more than 472 extra lane miles of capacity to the strategic road network.
When surveyed by the RAC, 52 per cent of motorists did not know what an Emergency Refuge Area was, and there was also significant confusion about how to use them and why. More worryingly, two-thirds of motorists did not know what to do after stopping in an ERA, or how to re-join the motorway, if the hard shoulder was in use. It is essential that we all understand how and when to use an emergency refuge area so that we are not putting our own safety or that of other road users at risk.
So how do they work?
Smart Motorways use gantry signs to control traffic speed. These also indicate which lanes are in use. Often during peak times, the hard shoulder will be available for traffic to use, which means that this is then taken away for any emergency use. During this time, Smart Motorways provide marked bays or Emergency Refuge Areas, which are usually around 1.5 miles apart.
If you need to use an ERA in an emergency, there is clear signage along the motorways showing where these are located. These are blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them. You should pull up to the indicated mark on the tarmac and then all occupants should leave the vehicle from the passenger side. You should then stand behind the barriers and use the emergency roadside telephone provided to speak to a Highways England representative. This will allow for the motorway signs to be temporarily set to close lanes or reduce the speed limits to help you to re-join the motorway safely, or alternatively, a traffic officer will be sent to assist you if required.
If you are unable to reach a refuge area, but the vehicle can be driven, move it to the hard shoulder or as close to the nearside verge as possible. In an emergency, Highways England advises calling 999.
In all cases, you should switch on your hazard lights and leave the vehicle via the passenger side, standing behind the barriers at all times.
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