The AA says refuge areas on so-called ‘smart motorways’ should be closer together after a survey found that, in the event of a breakdown, one-third of British motorists would only be willing to drive a quarter of a mile to reach a safe place.
Smart motorways often use a system called ‘all-lane running’ – effectively using the hard shoulder as a fourth lane – to increase capacity. To make up for the lack of a hard shoulder, the guidelines say an Emergency Refuge Area (ERA) or an exit should be spaced no more than 1.6 miles apart.
However, the AA’s poll of 17,500 drivers found that 32 percent would only be happy to drive a quarter of a mile in search of an ERA, while a further 23 percent would only drive for up to half a mile – less than one-third of the distance currently suggested.
Edmund King, the AA’s president said: ‘Drivers are still nervous about using all lane running schemes under their current design. With more than half of drivers only willing to drive up to half a mile before stopping in a live lane shows how potentially dangerous the current schemes might be.
‘Before and since the introduction of all lane running schemes we, and the emergency services, have continuously called for more emergency refuge areas to be provided.’
The news follows last year’s recommendations from the Transport Select Committee that the government stop rolling out all-lane running schemes and revert to the scheme used on the M42. This system involves using the hard shoulder only at peak times and placing ERA’s every half-mile.
In September 2016, Highways England committed to ‘review ERA spacing’, but it has not yet published its report.
King said: ‘Over a year ago, Highways England agreed to review the spacing of refuge areas, and we look forward to seeing the findings.
‘Increasing the number of refuge areas would help ease drivers' concerns, and provide confidence of getting to safety should the worst happen. We want to see capacity increased on the motorway network, but safety should not be compromised. We should aim to create the safest roads that we can.’
A spokesperson for Highways England said: ‘The spacing between refuge areas is still under review, but these things take time and careful analysis. Once completed, a report will be created.’