Press release

Smart advice for summer drivers

Drivers setting off on summer holidays are being urged to ensure they’re totally prepared and know about the latest signs and signals they will see on England's motorways.

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England’s motorways are already some of the safest in the world and the advice today is another step towards improving this further and reducing accidents on our roads.

With 46,000 breakdowns on England’s motorways and major A roads last summer, drivers are also being reminded what to do if they break down, including if that is on a section of ‘smart motorway’ where there is no hard shoulder.

The thousands of the incidents include trailers and caravans incorrectly fitted, tyre blow outs and people not having enough fuel to complete their journeys.

Highways England is advising drivers of the resources on offer to help them arrive at their destinations safely; it includes advice about driving on smart motorways where signs and signals are used to help ease the flow of traffic to improve journeys.

Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England Chief Executive said:

Safety is our top priority and we want people who are setting off on summer holidays to arrive at their destinations safely.

With schools breaking up in July many people will set off on long journeys on unfamiliar roads. Many of those journeys will be on smart motorways.

We want to be sure that drivers understand the signs and signals and know exactly what to do if their vehicle breaks down. We also urge drivers to ensure their vehicles are in good shape for the journeys before they set out - to help them get to their destinations safely.

Smart motorways now operate on 236 miles of the M25, M1, M42/M40, M20, M6, M62 and M4/M5. They reduce congestion and improve journey time reliability by making the hard shoulder available as a traffic lane and using variable speed limits to smooth traffic flow.

Drivers are being encouraged to find out more about driving on a smart motorway. Our top tips are:

  • never drive in a lane closed by a red “X” – the sign is there to protect road users or road workers in the lane ahead; you will put them at risk of danger if you drive in the lane
  • all speed limits displayed in red rings are legally enforceable
  • a solid white line indicates the hard shoulder - don’t drive in it unless directed
  • a broken white line indicates a normal running lane
  • if you have a problem with your vehicle, eg a warning light comes on, exit the smart motorway as soon as possible, at the next slip road or at a service area
  • use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder
  • if you break down put your hazard lights on, use your mobile to call the police on 999 and tell the operator you’re on the motorway
  • if you stop in the nearside lane, leave your vehicle via the nearside (left hand) door if it is safe to do so and wait behind the safety barrier, if there is one; if you are unable to move over to the nearside lane, remain in the vehicle with your seat belt on
  • if you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas; if it is not possible to get out of your vehicle safely, then you should stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on and dial ‘999’ if you have access to a working mobile phone

The summer campaign to encourage journey planning is supported by the AA and RAC.

Pete Williams, RAC road safety spokesman said:

With more than 230 miles of smart motorway in operation, representing 10% of total motorway miles, and plans to convert the hard shoulder into a permanent running lane on a further 300 miles over the next 5 years, it is imperative that motorists become familiar with how these stretches of road operate. Breaking down on any type of motorway can be a stressful and frightening experience so we are pleased to be working closely with Highways England to inform motorists of ‘best practice’ safe use of these new motorway configurations. Smart motorways are a cost-effective and rapid way to increase the capacity of the network, in the face of an anticipated 60% increase in the volume of traffic by 2040, but it is vital that this isn’t done at the expense of safety. As these represent the biggest changes to motorway design for a generation, communicating how to use them both in general and in emergency scenarios is essential.

In the event of breakdown on a smart motorway, the RAC’s advice is to try to reach an emergency refuge area. If you can’t do this, move as far over onto the verge if possible, leaving enough room to leave the vehicle by the left-hand doors. In all cases, red ‘X’ signs that indicate a lane is not in use should be obeyed to keep our motorways as safe as possible.

Edmund King OBE, AA President said:

Motorways are dangerous places to break down so if you can get off the motorway, you should do so. If you cannot, you should try and make it to the hard shoulder. However, if there isn’t one, you should try and get to a refuge area. Drivers should do all they can prior to setting off to ensure the chances of breaking down on a motorway are as small as possible. This means you should check the vehicle over properly and make sure you have enough fuel. Planning your route properly will help you not to get caught out by avoidable problems.

Two of the radio adverts produced for the campaign can be listened to on YouTube:

Our summer advice for drivers

Plan your journey

You can use the Highways England app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, to plan your holiday route as well as your regular journeys.

There are many journey planning websites online including AA Route Planner, RAC Route Planner and Google Maps.

Before you set off

Check live and predicted traffic information on Traffic England and on our mobile app. You can see live traffic flow information as well as live traffic camera images.

Make sure you have everything you need for your journey – and any unexpected delays, including: drinking water, food and medicine.

As you go

Ask a passenger to check traffic conditions on our mobile app or use a hands free kit and enable audio updates. Remember it’s illegal to drive using hand held phones.

National and regional radio stations also provide regular travel updates.

Pay attention to signs and signals on the road – this information is there to help you.

General enquiries

Members of the public should contact the Highways England customer contact centre on 0300 123 5000.

Media enquiries

Journalists should contact the Highways England press office on 0844 693 1448 and use the menu to speak to the most appropriate press officer.

Published 11 July 2016