The first of a new-style smart motorway emergency refuge area (ERA) is being trialled on the M3 in Surrey.
The redesigned ERA has a highly visible orange road surface and better signs to help improve its visibility and make it more obvious to drivers on smart motorways, says Highways England. It is also hoped that it will encourage drivers to only use them in emergency situations.
The first of the new ERAs went live on the M3 near Camberley on Friday (July 14). More upgrades are planned should the trial be successful.
The 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 explained: “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.”
Smart motorways use variable speed limits to manage traffic and tackle stop-start congestion, new technology to give drivers better information on road conditions ahead and – in smart motorway upgrades delivered since 2004 – convert the hard shoulder into an extra traffic lane.
Evidence shows that smart motorways are successfully adding extra capacity, improving journey times and are just as safe as conventional motorways, says Highways England.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: "Smart motorways are adding extra lanes to our busiest motorways and – as recent evidence shows – reducing the rate of crashes.
"We are making emergency refuge areas more visible to ensure motorists in trouble can easily identify where to stop safely."
The redesigned emergency area supports Highways England’s 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.
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 has welcomed the trial to improve awareness and understanding of what to do if you breakdown or have an accident on a smart motorway.
RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said that the announcement by Highways England was “good news” as it will improve visibility and make it easier for drivers to find a place of relative safety.
He continued: “The planned development also includes a clear indication of where to stop, additional distance markers between ERAs [emergency refuge areas), 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.”
However, he said: “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.”
The new look sign: