Highways England is set to build more refuge areas on smart motorways that use the hard shoulder as a driving lane.

In a letter to the Transport Select Committee, Highways England boss Jim O’Sullivan said the gap between refuge areas – essentially safe lay-bys for cars that have broken down – will be reduced from 1.5 miles to one mile on all future all-lane-running projects. The government-run company will also install ‘a small number’ of extra emergency areas on existing all-lane-running roads.

Highways England will also trial ‘visibility improvements’ including new signage and orange-painted asphalt to ‘increase customer confidence’ in the refuge areas.

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The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has long been looking into the safety of all-lane running and the cross-party focus group told the government it ‘must not ignore safety concerns’ back in September 2016. In October 2017, a study by the AA found that the public thought Emergency Refuge Areas, or ERAs, were too far apart.

AA president Edmund King said at the time: ‘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, it 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.’

O’Sullivan said Highways England would take feedback from road users on board when making its decisions.

‘We have delivered extensive engagement campaigns to increase customer awareness of all-lane-running motorways and we will continue to listen to the views of our customers,’ he said. ‘We will continue our engagement with the emergency services, recovery operators and other operational stakeholders to maintain safe, effective procedures and a consistent approach to incident management.’