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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update – 26/03/2020

What If You Break Down On A Smart Motorway?

Motorways have been part of the driving experience for motorists in the UK since the M1 opened in 1959. The motorway system was designed to allow high speed long distance travel and keep vehicles moving but increases in the number of vehicles on the roads has resulted in our motorways often being congested, with traffic sitting at a standstill or moving slowly.

smart motorwaysAs well as being a frustrating experience for drivers, motorway delays waste fuel and add to environmental pollution that these roads away from town centres were built to prevent.

New smart motorways have been introduced so the number of driving lanes and variable speed limits can be controlled according to weather conditions and traffic flow.

This initiative is used to keep UK traffic continually moving on our motorway networks. Currently the UK has over 400 miles of smart motorway, which includes sections of the M25, M1 and the M6 with much more planned in the future.

On a smart motorway, signs on overhead gantries are used to pass information to drivers. This includes temporary speed limits if there are queues ahead and when closing one or more lanes if they have been blocked by an accident.

Some smart motorways also allow use of the hard shoulder as an extra driving lane, either all the time or when there is traffic build up, this will reduce congestion and improve the flow of traffic. The lack of a hard shoulder on some smart motorways has raised safety concerns from safety organisations and the motor trade.

The hard shoulder located on the left-hand side of the motorway, is an emergency lane designed as a refuge for broken down vehicles, as well as a way for emergency services vehicles to travel quickly to the scene of an incident.

Following the recent news that 38 people have been killed on smart motorways in the last five years, what measures can drivers of both new and used cars take to stay safe in the event of a breakdown on a smart motorway?

For the most part, the guidelines are the same as for any motorway. In the event of a problem with your vehicle such as a puncture for example, if it’s possible make your way to the left side of the road or if you can, leave the motorway at the next exit.

Once pulled over, turn on the hazard warning lights and leave the vehicle using the doors on the side furthest away from the traffic and wait for assistance away from the vehicle. If there is a safety barrier, stand on the far side of it.

What about smart motorways where the hard shoulder is used as an extra lane? These have emergency refuge areas at regular intervals where you can safely stop your vehicle for assistance. There will be a phone in this service area for you to call for help.

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If you can’t get your vehicle to a safe refuge area or the hard shoulder and need to remain in a middle or outside lane, keep your seat belt on and switch on your hazard lights immediately.

Stay inside the vehicle rather than trying to walk to the verge and call 999 for help. This is where smart motorways live up to their name, as the lane you’re in can be closed to keep you safe and allow for the emergency services to reach you.

If you are setting out on a journey that will include motorway driving, you can reduce the risk of a breakdown by checking your vehicle before you leave. Make sure you have enough fuel, that all fluids are topped up and that your tyres are in good condition.

Have a warm coat and something to drink in case you need to wait for recovery, and keep your mobile phone charged.

These steps are an insurance policy and although won’t guarantee your vehicle won’t break down, they will keep you safe and more comfortable if you are unfortunate enough to do so.