If you regularly travel on the UK’s motorways, you’ll have noticed that many have, or are being converted into ‘smart motorways’. Smart motorways were created to manage the flow of traffic using technology which is controlled from a regional traffic control centre. While traffic can be kept flowing freely through changing signs and speed limits from the control centres, traffic can also flow better due to the increased capacity of the road; the hard shoulder is opened up permanently, essentially creating a ‘new’ lane without ever building one. So, as there is no hard shoulder, how has Breakdown Recovery changed and what should you do in the event of a breakdown?
The government website insists that all motorists should be able to make their own recovery arrangements should they breakdown on a smart motorway. On a regular motorway, should your car breakdown, the first place you’d head to is the hard shoulder, but you cannot do that on a smart motorway because it’s just another lane of traffic! So, what do you do instead?
On smart motorways, there are emergency refuge areas (ERA) that are spaced out regularly along the motorway which you can head to. If, in the case you cannot make it to an ERA in time, move your car as close as possible to the nearside boundary and switch on your hazard lights and then follow other government, or Highways England advised safety protocols for exiting a broken down vehicle. Regional traffic control centres should very quickly pick up your breakdown situation and will be able to use the smart motorway technology to close the lane to keep oncoming cars out of your lane. Safety of yourself, and other road users is obviously in everyones best interest.
The Transport Select Committee suggested to the Government in the summer of 2017 that it would be better if the hard shoulder is open to traffic only at peak time and that ERAs are spaced 800m apart (about half a mile), however whilst the government said that “Highways England has committed to review ERA spacing as part of the broader approach to reduce the frequency and risk associated with live lane stops”, the current guidelines still state that ERAs are no more than 2.5km apart.
Breakdown services can easily access your broken-down vehicle if it is parked in an ERA. Once you have exited your broken-down car, use the SOS telephone for instructions from Highways England. Sometimes, when you and/or your car is ready to drive from, or be removed from an ERA, Highways England may close the lane behind you allowing you to more safely exit (as there is obviously no run-off that you have on a hard shoulder).