Concern for '˜danger' emergency lay-bys on smart motorways

Drivers have described emergency lay-bys on smart motorways as 'death zones' and 'desperate unreachable havens'.

Highways England guidance is for stopping places to be no more than 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) apart on motorways where the hard shoulder can be converted into an extra traffic lane during busy periods.

But the AA said drivers had made it “abundantly clear” that they believe this is insufficient to avoid broken down vehicles being forced to stop in live running lanes, putting them at risk of being hit from behind.

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Asked by the motoring organisation to give the lay-bys an alternative name, the responses by drivers included “death zones”, “foolish planners’ promised land”, “good luck breaking down beside this space” and “desperate unreachable havens”.

AA president Edmund King said: “Our members came up with some scary names for the emergency refuge areas, which indicates just how worried they are.

“If drivers can see the next lay-by, they are much more likely to make it to the relative safety of that area even if their car has a puncture or is overheating.

“If they can’t see the lay-by, they often panic and stop in a live running lane. If more lay-bys are designed at the planning stage it will be less expensive and safer.

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“It is time for the Government to go back to the drawing board and design a scheme acceptable to drivers.” According to Highways England, emergency refuge areas are typically in place every two kilometres on smart motorways, meaning motorists driving at 60 miles per hour pass one around every 90 seconds.

The country’s existing stretches of smart motorway include 15 miles of the M62 south of Leeds and Bradford and a further six miles of the M1 between Denby Dale and Lofthouse, near Wakefield.

Earlier this year, MPs on the Commons Transport Select Committee held an inquiry which concluded that such schemes – known as all lane running – are too dangerous and have not been properly considered. An AA survey of more than 20,000 motorists found that 79 per cent think the loss of hard shoulders has made motorways less safe.

Mr King believes there should be at least twice as many lay-bys included in the design of smart motorways.

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He said: “Whilst we support measures to improve motorway capacity, we do not think that safety should be compromised.

“We do not accept that the current criteria of emergency refuge areas is safe. Breaking down in a live running lane with trucks thundering up behind you is every driver’s worst nightmare.”