Since the announcement of smart motorways, there have been growing concerns over their safety, in particular when it comes to hard shoulder running. New concerns have been raised following a study conducted by the RAC that found that over half of the 2,000 motorists surveyed are not familiar with emergency refuge areas (ERAs). Furthermore, there was some confusion about how to use an ERA with two-thirds neither knowing what they should do after stopping nor how to rejoin the motorway.
In this blog post, we will help you understand what ERAs are for and how they should be used so you can make sure you’re using smart motorways legally and safely.
What is an emergency refuge area?
Emergency refuge areas on smart motorways are lay-bys positioned on the side of the road. They were introduced on motorways where the hard shoulder has been converted into a running lane for traffic. Guidance from Highways England states that ERAs should be no more than 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) apart.
ERAs are marked with blue signs that feature an orange SOS telephone symbol on them.
What is a smart motorway?
Smart motorways open up the hard shoulder as a live lane during busy periods to ease congestion and control the flow of traffic using variable speed limits, which are displayed on overhead gantries.
The RAC’s chief engineer David Bizley has provided some advice on how to use smart motorways. He said: “For anyone who hasn’t driven on a smart motorway there are some very noticeable difference, 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.”
How to use an emergency refuge area
It is essential that you understand how to use an ERA properly so you do not put your, or any other road user’s safety, at risk.
- If you find yourself in an emergency while on a smart motorway, you should try to reach an ERA if you are able to do so by pulling up to the indicated mark on the tarmac or by the emergency telephone.
- Once in an ERA, if it is safe to leave your vehicle, do so by the passenger side and use the emergency telephone to contact Highways England.
- Depending on the emergency, a traffic officer will be sent out to help or the motorway signs will be changed to clear lane one so you can safely rejoin the motorway.
- If you cannot get to an ERA but the vehicle can be driven, you should move it into the hard shoulder or as close to the verge on the nearest side.
- In any emergency situation, you should always switch on your hazard lights.