What you must – and must not – do if you break down on a smart motorway

·3-min read
Work continues near Wokingham, Berkshire, on turning the M4 Motorway into a digital Mototway. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday January 27, 2020. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
The M4 Motorway in Berkshire is being turned into a 'smart' motorway (PA)

National Highways has released a road safety video advising motorists what to do if they get into trouble on any of the UK's so-called smart motorways.

A smart motorway is a section of a motorway that uses traffic management methods to increase capacity and reduce congestion in particularly busy areas.

The development of smart motorways has seen the demise of the traditional hard shoulder on some stretches of road, meaning many motorists who break down can no longer automatically veer left into a lane with no traffic.

Highways England (previously the Highways Agency) developed smart motorways to manage traffic in a way that minimises environmental impact, cost and time to construct by avoiding the need to build additional lanes.

There are 375 miles of smart roads on the UK's 2,300-mile motorway network, of which 140 miles retain a permanent hard shoulder.

Sections of so-called 'smart' motorways are running across the country (Highways England)
Sections of so-called 'smart' motorways are running across the country (Highways England)

Motorways with sections where the hard shoulder has been removed are on the M1, M5, M6, M23, M25 and M62.

Starring Gadget Show presenters Ortis Deley and Suzi Perry, the minute-long film reiterates one piece of advice for anyone encountering driving difficulties - bear left.

The most important message is: "Go Left, Get Safe, Get Help."

What to do if you break down on the motorway

The presenters urge drivers to stay calm if they encounter difficulties.

The film advises anyone facing difficulties while on a smart motorway to either: leave at the next exit; veer left onto an emergency hard shoulder area; or pull onto a grass verge if possible.

Call 999 if you break down on a motorway (Highways Agency)
Call 999 if you break down on a motorway (Highways Agency)

Automatic radars are now in place on smart motorway sections. They will sense stopped vehicles and close the lane accordingly. They will also pass the information to overhead signs which slow traffic in order to avoid congestion.

The main points to remember if you think you may break down on any motorway are:

  1. Put your left indicators on.

  2. Move into the left lane.

  3. Enter the next emergency area, or hard shoulder if there is one.

  4. Put your hazard lights on.

  5. Call National Highways on 0300 123 5000, or 999 if it is an emergency and you haven't reached a safe place to stop.

If there is a hard shoulder, head towards it as soon as possible (Highways Agency)
If there is a hard shoulder, head towards it as soon as possible (Highways Agency)

What you must not do if you break down on the motorway

The main thing to avoid is stopping in a motorway lane if at all possible. If you have to, you must ensure seatbelts are fastened, put your hazard lights on, then call 999.

The introduction of smart motorways has been met with some anger.

In November 2021, a group of campaigners marched to parliament protesting about the rolling out of smart motorways.

Official figures show there were 38 recorded deaths on smart motorways between 2015-2019, with more reported in the years since, and road safety campaigners, and relatives of those killed on smart motorways, have called for the developments to be halted.

Demonstrators protesting against smart motorways march with coffins across Westminster Bridge to Parliament Square in London. Picture date: Monday November 1, 2021. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
Demonstrators protesting against smart motorways marched with coffins across Westminster Bridge to Parliament Square in London last November (PA)

In January, the government agreed to pause its plans to roll the scheme out further, saying it would wait for five years of safety data for existing stretches of smart motorway.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps also committed £900m to safety measures, including £390m to install additional emergency areas to make up for the removal of hard shoulders.

He said: "While our initial data shows that smart motorways are among the safest roads in the UK, it’s crucial that we go further to ensure people feel safer using them."

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