Stretches of the M1 and M62 will see changes to emergency refuge areas.

Highways England has announced “enhancements” to emergency areas on the M1 and M62 in a bid to make the motorways safer.

Emergency refuge areas (or ERAs) are designed to replace the hard shoulder on ‘smart motorways’ that use the hard shoulder as a ‘live’ lane. With the hard shoulder open to traffic, the ERAs are supposed to provide a safe haven for drivers who experience problems such as punctures or breakdowns.

Highways England, the government-run company responsible for the country’s motorways, says it will change some ERAs on two sections of the M1 in Yorkshire and a section of the M62 to make them easier to spot. Modifications include the installation of extra signs detailing the distance to the next ERA and a marked out box to make it clearer for drivers to see where the ideal central stopping position is. This, Highways England says, will make it easier to recover stranded vehicles quickly, as well as discouraging motorists from using ERAs in “non-emergency situations”.

Motorway sign for the M1 near Chesterfield Derbyshire England

The changes will be made on the M1 between Alfreton in Derbyshire (junction 28) and the A616 Stocksbridge bypass near Sheffield (junction 35a), and between Denby Dale (junction 39) and the M1/M62 intersection (junction 42). Similar changes will also be introduced on the M62 between Rothwell and Brighouse, in West Yorkshire (junctions 25-30).

These new measures follow Highways England’s decision to paint ERAs bright orange in 2017, with the hope that this would make them more obvious to motorists and discourage improper use of the lay-bys. At the time, the organisation’s chief executive, Jim O’Sullivan, said he hoped the revamp would help drivers “feel more confident about using a smart motorway”.

M1 motorway near Flitwick junction with colourful sunset

News of the modifications also comes after a torrid time for the motorways, which recently came under fire after the AA uncovered a 2016 report that said it took an average of more than 17 minutes to detect a broken-down vehicle on a stretch of the M25. Highways England defended the smart motorway programme, with the company’s chief engineer claiming the roads were “good for drivers”.

Announcing the changes to the ERAs in Yorkshire, Highways England’s smart motorways programme sponsor, Paul Unwin, said it was important that drivers “feel safe”, and the company would make changes to the design of the motorway.

Finger pressing car emergency hazzard red light button

“Smart motorways are as safe as traditional motorways, which are already among the safest roads in the world,” he said. “We recognise that as well as being safe, drivers want to feel safe and we have and will continue to make some changes to the design of motorways.

“This includes making emergency areas more visible by making them bright orange which should also discourage drivers from using them in non-emergency situations. These redesigned emergency areas support our drive to improve awareness of smart motorway driving as part of our planned programme of work, including what to do in an emergency and when to use an emergency area.”