Highways England launches smart motorway safety campaign

Jack Evans, PA Motoring Reporter
·3-min read

Highways England has kickstarted a new safety campaign, urging motorists to ‘keep left’ if they suffer a breakdown on the motorway.

The multi-million-pound information drive has been designed to give drivers clear instructions on what to do in the event of an emergency.

Six hundred journeys a day involve a breakdown in the UK, which is why Highways England has put a spin on the Pet Shop Boys’ track ‘Go West’ to ensure that drivers have a catchy reminder to move to the left and over to a hard shoulder if they find themselves in mechanical difficulty. For smart motorways, drivers should move left across to the nearest refuge area.

The campaign forms part of an 18-point action plan set out by the Department for Transport following an evidence stocktake into smart motorways undertaken last year. The messaging is being put into action to improve safety and public confidence in smart motorways, following much criticism into the stretches of highway.

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In 2019 there were close to 230,000 reported breakdowns across the Highways England network, including around 207,500 on motorways. In the 12 months from June 2019, around 40,000 breakdowns occurred as a result of tyre issues, while 6,000 were caused by a vehicle running out of fuel.

Nick Harris, Highways England acting chief executive, said: “No one plans to break down on a motorway, but if the unexpected happens then I want all motorists to know what to do so that they can keep themselves and others safe.

“Everyone wants a safe journey and raising awareness is a vital part of helping to make sure that happens.”

Highways England recommends that those who experience a problem with their vehicle should leave the motorway if possible. However, if that can’t be achieved, then drivers should put their left indicator on and move into an emergency area, onto a hard shoulder, into a motorway service area, left-hand verge or A-road lay-by.

RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said: “Suffering a breakdown on a motorway or a high-speed road can be one of the most terrifying things that drivers might encounter, so it’s important everyone has a clear understanding of what to do in that situation.

“We’re pleased to see Highways England addressing this issue in its new campaign which encourages drivers to ‘go left’. This is a simple and effective message that will hopefully improve safety on our motorways and major dual carriageways by reducing the number of vehicles that stop in live lanes.”

Motorists should also switch on hazard lights – even during the day – and use side lights during the night too. The fog light should be used in poor visibility as well.

On a motorway without a hard shoulder, Highways England states that it ‘should be possible’ for most vehicles experiencing a problem to reach an emergency area. They’re spaced out along the side of the carriageway and feature orange road surface markings, as well as blue signs with an orange SOS telephone symbol.

Edmund King OBE, AA president, said: “Breaking down on a motorway is a daunting prospect. As motorway design has changed since many of us passed our test, it is vital to inform drivers what they should do in rare but worse-case scenarios.

“This welcome new campaign reminds drivers to ‘go left’ should their vehicles develop faults and if possible, get off the motorway. However, if they can’t, then they should head for the next emergency zone.

“Some breakdowns can be avoided completely, so drivers should take five minutes before setting off to ensure their tyres are inflated correctly, that they have enough fuel or electric charge and that engine fluids are topped up.”