AA calls for more smart motorway refuges


A motoring organisation has called for road planners to include more emergency refuges on so-called ‘smart’ motorways, after it was found that many drivers are worried about the safety of such highways.

Research conducted by the AA revealed eight out of ten motorists believe the introduction of this technology has made motorways more dangerous than they were four years ago.

Smart motorways refer to stretches of highway that use monitoring technologies and active traffic management in order to reduce congestion and keep traffic flowing. This can include the use of variable speed limits based on conditions and opening up hard shoulders as running lanes at busy periods.

It is the latter feature that motorists have expressed concerns about, particularly if a vehicle suffers a breakdown when the hard shoulder is being used as a running lane. Although smart motorways are designed with additional laybys in order to provide a refuge in these situations, the AA suggested there are not enough of these.

Guidance from Highways England recommends Emergency Refuge Areas be no more than 2.6km (1.5 miles) apart. However, the AA would like to see at least twice as many laybys as currently exist, and for them to be double the length.

At present, the organisation noted that if a car breaks down out of sight of one of these refuges, it is likely to stop in a running lane – increasing the risk of the vehicle being struck from behind. Additionally, it noted that at the moment, if a HGV has come to a stop in one of these laybys, it is almost impossible for a car to safely enter it as well.

President of the AA Edmund King said: “Whilst we support measures to improve motorway capacity, we do not think that safety should be compromised. We do not accept that the current criteria of an Emergency Refuge Area or exit at least every 2.6km is safe.”

He added that if drivers can see the next refuge ahead, they are more likely to make it to relative safety, even if they have a problem such as a puncture or overheating.

“If they can’t see the layby, they often panic and stop in a live running lane. If more laybys are designed at the planning stage it will be less expensive and safer.”

The AA also raised questions about the effectiveness of warning signs when a car has come to a stop in a live running lane. It said collisions are still occurring even when overhead gantries display a red X to warn drivers that a lane is closed.

This suggests some drivers are ignoring instructions, while in other cases, motorists have been spotted trying to change tyres in live running lanes without any advance warning being given to traffic.

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