Despite widespread criticism, it appears that smart motorways are here to stay as the Highway Code is proposed to be updated to include more information about these controversial highways and what will be termed ‘dynamic’ hard shoulders. (If a hard shoulder only comes into use ‘during periods of congestion’, it will be known as a ‘dynamic hard shoulder’.)
The updated Highway Code will include explanations of the emergency refuge areas which continue to be installed along smart motorways and clearer information on the use of the red X sign to signify closed lanes. Information will also be included on how road users can help keep themselves safe in the event of a breakdown or emergency on a smart motorway, with explanations of the variable speed limits which come into force used at busy periods.
Highways England’s Head of Road Safety, Jeremy Phillips said, ‘The updated edition of The Highway Code will help inform the next generation of road users as well as giving important updates to those with many miles under their belt, to help us all stay safer.”
Other ‘significant proposed updates’ clarify issues around smart motorways such as what to do in a breakdown in an all lane running (no hard shoulder) section of motorway, the protocol for using and leaving an emergency refuge area, and the signage around smart motorways.
Importantly for the emergency areas, the proposed changes state: ‘You MUST call the operator using the emergency telephone provided and follow the operator’s advice for exiting the emergency area. A lane may need to be closed so that you can re-join the motorway safely.’
Emergency areas are located along motorways with no hard shoulder or where the hard shoulder is used as an extra lane and are for emergency use only.
The proposed changes also give advice for drivers breaking down on all lane running sections of a smart motorway: ‘If you can’t get into the left lane, stay in your vehicle, keep your seatbelts and hazard warning lights on and call 999 immediately or press the SOS button if your vehicle has one and ask for the police.’
The proposals also note that ‘where a closed left lane crosses an exit slip road this means that the exit cannot be used’ drivers should continue to the next exit even if the route to the slip road appears to be clear.
A spokesperson for Highways England added, ‘Our proposed amendments to The Highway Code include new and additional guidance on:
- the availability, appearance and safe use of emergency areas
- the use of variable speed limits to manage congestion
- the use of the red ‘X’ sign to close lanes and provide a safer area for the people and vehicles involved in incidents and road works
- the use of hard shoulders that become extra lanes during periods of congestion
- how road users can help keep themselves safe in the event of a breakdown
- how safety cameras are employed to promote compliance with speed limits and lane closures
What are your views about the safety of these smart motorways with ‘dynamic’ hard shoulders?