A new survey has revealed widespread confusion among British motorists on how to correctly and safely use smart motorways. Worryingly, 52 percent of drivers admit they actually don’t know what an emergency refuge area is, and for those who do, almost two thirds of motorists don’t know how to safely use them.

The survey was carried out by the RAC, which found that only 1.5 percent of people questioned have ever used one. Even more worryingly, only one person was aware that drivers need to phone the Highways Agency before getting back on the motorway if the hard shoulder is being used as a live running lane.

Most drivers, incorrectly, think they simply need to wait for a gap in the traffic and then gun it...

The Highways Agency has previously carried out awareness campaigns on how to correctly use smart motorways, but the RAC’s findings suggest there’s still work to be done – particularly as the government agency is currently reviewing how well emergency refuge areas are working.

“Even though the first smart motorway was created more than 10 years ago… there will still be many people who have not driven on one,” said RAC chief engineer David Bizley. “Existing signage for emergency refuge areas is clear but will be further improved to make it even better for everyone.

“It is essential that motorists understand how and when to use an emergency refuge area so they do not put their own safety and that of other road users at risk.”

Motorway law-breakers:

A £3 billion investment programme to upgrade motorways to smart motorway status by 2020 is currently underway. Over 470 miles of extra motorway lanes have thus far been added by converting strategic roads to smart motorways.

How to use a smart motorway emergency refuge area

  • Use one if you can reach it safely: look for the blue signs with the orange SOS telephone symbol on
  • Leave your vehicle and contact Highways England via the emergency telephone present in all emergency refuge areas
  • A traffic officer will be sent out to help if necessary; if you are able to get moving again, motorway overhead signs will be set to either temporarily close lanes or lower the speed limit to help you get underway again
  • If you can’t reach an emergency service area, move either to the hard shoulder or as close to the nearside roadside or verge as possible
  • Use your hazard warning lights!