Highways England is trialling a new style of smart motorway emergency area on the M3 in Surrey.
The redesigned emergency area has a ‘highly visible’ orange road surface, as well as better signposting, in an effort to make it ‘more obvious’ to drivers.
Highways England also hopes the new design will encourage drivers to only use the areas in emergency situations.
Smart motorways use variable speed limits to manage traffic and tackle ‘frustrating’ stop-start congestion. The hard shoulder is also turned into an extra traffic lane, with technology deployed to give drivers better information on road conditions ahead.
However, the smart motorway concept has not been an unqualified success, with a survey published in May suggesting that 52% of motorists are not familiar with emergency refuge areas (ERAs).
The RAC survey also suggests there is considerable confusion about how to use ERAs, with two-thirds of respondents neither knowing what to do after stopping (64%), nor how to re-join the motorway (65%).
The first of the new emergency areas went live on the M3 near Camberley today (14 July) and is part of an ongoing review looking at the design and spacing of emergency areas on smart motorways.
Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive, said: “We know that smart motorways are safe. But we also recognise that drivers need to have confidence when using them and be clear about where they can stop in an emergency.
“That is why we are trialling these highly visible new style emergency areas. The bright orange colouring will make them as easy as possible to spot and should also discourage drivers from using them in non-emergency situations.
“This is just one of the ways we are helping drivers to understand smart motorways and their benefits. I hope it helps drivers feel more confident about using a smart motorway.”
Chris Grayling, transport secretary, said: “Smart motorways are adding extra lanes to our busiest motorways and – as recent evidence shows – reducing the rate of crashes.
“We are making emergency refuge areas more visible to ensure motorists in trouble can easily identify where to stop safely.”