Growing concerns around the safety of smart motorways have led to Highways England agreeing to install extra emergency lay-bys on this new type of road to give drivers more opportunities to stop if they break down or are involved in an accident.

The purpose of smart motorways

At present, the maximum gap there should be between emergency lay-bys is 1.5 miles but this is going to be reduced to 1 mile where possible to provide reassurance to drivers who may be worried about driving on a motorway which has no hard shoulder available.

Smart motorways have been created to help to ease congestion and improve capacity by opening up the hard shoulder to traffic to give motorists an extra lane to use, but AA president Edmund King has stated that this should not be done at the expense of safety.

In fact, an AA survey carried out in 2016 showed that many drivers think that smart motorways are ‘death zones’ and also described emergency lay-bys as ‘desperate unreachable havens’ which suggests that many of the people who use these roads do not feel safe when doing so.

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Smart motorway safety review

Now that Highways England has completed a smart motorway safety review they have seen that more emergency lay-bys should be created, especially in high-risk areas, to help motorists to avoid being hit from behind at speed should they experience an issue and have to stop in a live lane.

Unfortunately, an accident of this nature did occur over the festive period in Cheshire when a broken down family car was hit by a lorry at around 60mph while they were using a section of road which was being prepared to be a smart motorway so had no hard shoulder. Luckily they escaped with minor injuries but this may not always be the case, and steps should be taken to ensure that this kind of incident does not happen again.

Currently sections of the M25, M1, M4 and M6 have been converted into smart motorways and there are 480 miles of smart motorway lanes planned for the future, so it is vital that safety is looked at seriously to ensure that those sections yet to be built give drivers plenty of opportunities to leave the road should they break down or have an accident.

Knowing the laws

Those using smart motorways also seem to be confused about what it means when a red X is being displayed over a lane, as more than 25,000 motorists have been sent warning letters for driving in these lanes when they shouldn’t be. Individuals have not been charged for this in the past but it is understood that police will start fining for this violation in the next few months.

This suggests that perhaps people need to be given detailed explanations about what smart motorways are and how they work as this will help them to avoid fines and drive safely while they are using them.

It is also important for those driving on smart motorways to keep their cars well maintained which will mean that they are less likely to break down and cause an issue. For example, checking oil and water levels, filling up with petrol and windscreen washer fluid, and topping up tyre pressures, are all ways in which cars can be prepared for the roads, especially when a long journey is planned.

Offering reassurance to drivers

Hopefully, this new move by Highways England will help motorists to use smart motorways with confidence and without the fear that they will be stuck in a dangerous position should they break down during their journey.

With more emergency lay-bys, with shorter distances between them, to take advantage of should the worst happen, drivers should no longer see them as being ‘unreachable havens’ and should see them as being an option that will be available to them when they need one.

Have you ever had to use an emergency lay-by? Do you find expanded motorways increasingly daunting? Let us know your thoughts down below.

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