What to do on a smart motorway.

smart motorway

Millions of motorists are unsure about what to do in the event of an emergency on a smart motorway.

In our blog we aim to answer all of your questions about what happens if you having vehicle trouble on a smart motorway.

How to use a smart motorway

On a smart motorway:

  • never drive in a lane closed by a red “X”
  • keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries
  • a solid white line indicates the hard shoulder – don’t drive in it unless directed.
  • a broken white line indicates a normal running lane
  • if your vehicle experiences difficulties, eg warning light, exit the smart motorway immediately if possible
  • use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder
  • put your hazard lights on if you break down

52% of drivers surveyed did not know what an emergency refuge area on a smart motorway was. Nor did they know that they should be using them in the absence of a hard shoulder.

refuge area smart motorway There was also considerable confusion about how to use the refuge areas. With 64% of people asked not knowing what to do after stopping.

While 65% were uncertain about how to rejoin the motorway.

Of the 2% who had used an emergency refuge area, only one respondent knew that they should contact Highways England to facilitate their getting back on to the motorway.

What do you do if you are having vehicle trouble on a smart motorway?

Always try to exit the smart motorway immediately if your vehicle is damaged or experiences difficulties. If that’s not possible, move into the nearest place of relative safety. On most motorways this will be the hard shoulder. But on a smart motorway there may not always be a hard shoulder, or the hard shoulder may be open to traffic. In these cases you’ll see emergency refuge areas (ERA) spaced regularly along the motorway. Make your way to the nearest one.

You should follow these steps:

  1. Use an emergency refuge area if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them.
  2. If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas. We will either send a traffic officer to help you, or set the motorway signs to temporarily clear lane 1 to assist you to rejoin the motorway.
  3. If you cannot get to an emergency refuge area but the vehicle can be driven, move it to the hard shoulder (where provided) or as close to the nearside verge or other nearside boundary as possible.
  4. In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.

Who is available to help you on a smart motorway?

If you stop in the nearside lane next to a hard shoulder or verge and feel you are able to exit safely with any occupants, consider exiting your vehicle via the nearside (left hand) door. Wait behind the safety barrier, if there is one and safe to do so.

If it is not possible to get out of your vehicle safely, or there is no other place of relative safety to wait then you should stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on and dial ‘999’ if you have access to a working mobile phone.

Once the regional traffic control centre is aware of your situation, via the police or roadside technology such as CCTV, they can use the smart motorway technology to set overhead signs and close the lane to help keep traffic away from you. They will also send a traffic officer or the police to help you.

As a business owner with vehicles or fleet manager is there anything else that you should be doing? Use your fleet management system to make sure that your vehicles are serviced regularly. Keep up to any repairs that need doing. In the worst case scenario you can see from your vehicle tracking system if any of your vehicles are stationary for long periods of time.

Call one of the team at Satmo on 01274 587748 to see how we can help you. Alternatively leave us your contact details here and we will call you back.


Fiona Taylor is the Sales Manager at award winning Satmo Vehicle Tracking. If you feel you need help with your fleet, want to gain back control, save some money and time then please get in touch.

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