Millions unsure of smart motorway emergency refuge area use

Millions unsure of smart motorway emergency refuge area use
More than half of UK drivers are unfamiliar with how to use emergency refuge areas (ERAs) on smart motorways, new RAC research reveals.

Although the first smart motorway came into force over 10 years ago, many drivers do not encounter them on a regular basis, and feel in the dark about the potentially life-saving “safe haven” provided by ERAs.

Increasingly, the hard shoulder on such highways is used as a running lane for traffic, either consistently or just during the most congested times of day.

READ MORE: Smart motorways – what are they and how to use them

But the RAC study, which questioned over 2,000 drivers, discovered that 52% didn’t know that the lanes act as a refuge for accident stricken or broken down vehicles, in the absence of a hard shoulder.

Furthermore, almost two-thirds (64%) are not aware of the correct procedure for what to do once stopped, and a similar amount (65%) not sure how to re-join traffic.

Also among the disturbing findings, it was discovered that only one respondent (from the overall 1.5% who had actually used an ERA) knew they needed to contact Highways England to help them back onto the motorway, if the hard shoulder was operating as a running lane.

The rest assumed they had to wait for a gap in traffic and dangerously accelerate to reach motorway speed.

On the positive side, almost a clean sweep (98%) knew that ERAs should be used in the case of a breakdown, and 90% after accident.

However, 40% thought it was appropriate to use them for medical reasons, while 27% thought they were a good spot for carsick passengers to be sick.

Thankfully, only 1% thought they were a good option for rest stops, toilet breaks, nappy changing or phone calls.

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 says existing signage for emergency refuge areas is clear, but will be further improved to help those who aren’t aware of them, purely because of where they live.

The RAC has been working closely with Highways England and is backing work to improve the motoring public’s understanding of ERAs and how to use them.

“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,” Mr Bizley said.

“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.

“For anyone who hasn’t driven on a smart motorway there are some very noticeable differences, the main ones being that there is no permanent hard shoulder, overhead gantries with variable mandatory speed limits, emergency refuge areas spaced up to 2.5km apart and variable message signs.

“Driving is just the same as normal but motorists need to be very aware of the speed limit applicable at the time as well as watching out for red ‘Xs’ which indicate that a lane has been closed and it is an offence to drive in it.”

Copyright Press Association 2017. Motoring News articles do not reflect the RAC's views unless clearly stated.

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