New research has revealed that over half of motorists do not know what emergency refuge areas (ERAs) on smart motorway all lane running schemes are.
A study conducted by the RAC found that 52% of those surveyed do not know about ERAs. There was also confusion about how to use them, with 64% not knowing what to do after stopping and 65% not knowing how to re-join the motorway.
Of the tiny minority (1.5%) who had used an ERA, only one respondent knew to contact Highways England for help getting back on to the motorway if the hard shoulder was operating as a running lane.
RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: ‘Even though the first smart motorway was created more than 10 years ago and more schemes have come into operation in the last few years there will still be many people who have not driven on one purely as a result of where they live and drive.’
A spokesperson for Highways England said: ‘We continually work to increase drivers’ awareness of what to do in the case of an emergency on a smart motorway and will publish the results of our research in to spacing, size and signage of emergency refuge areas in due course.’
Asked when it would be appropriate to use ERAs, 98% said in a breakdown situation and 90% said after an accident. However, 40% thought it was appropriate to use an ERA for medical reasons such as needing to take medication and 27% thought they could be used for the driver or a passenger to be sick.
There was near universal understanding that ERAs are not there for rest breaks, toilet stops, phone calls or changing a baby’s nappy.
The RAC said it has been working closely with Highways England and is backing work to improve the motoring public’s understanding of ERAs.
It also took part in an industry-wide Highways England workshop, testing ERAs at the Fire Service Training College, where it was found that all types of vehicles could be recovered safely from them.
The RAC’s advice for using an ERA is:
- Use an ERA if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them.
- If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas.
- If required, a traffic officer will either be sent to help, or the motorway signs will be set to temporarily close lanes or reduce speed limits to help you re-join the motorway safely.
- If you cannot get to an ERA but the vehicle can be driven, move it to the hard shoulder (where provided) or as close to the nearside verge or other nearside boundary as possible.
- In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.