Green Flag and smart motorways: how to stay safe

Green flag and smart motorways

The debate about smart motorways is currently raging, so I wanted to clarify Green Flag’s policy on them, and provide the latest information on what happens if you do break down on one.

A quick explanation of smart motorways

Smart motorways are split into three categories:

Dynamic hard shoulder motorways have a hard shoulder on the left-hand side; however, it can be opened for traffic to ease congestion.

Controlled motorways will have variable speed limits shown on screens above the lanes themselves.

All lane running motorways don’t have a hard shoulder, as every lane is used for traffic. You’ll find yellow-painted ‘emergency refuge areas’ every 600m to 1.5 miles. Any driver can use these areas if there is an emergency or they break down.

If you ever see a red X on the screens above the lane, that means the lane is closed. There may be a breakdown or people working on the roadside. Do not drive on this lane until told otherwise (you’ll usually see the red X replaced with a speed limit).

What to do if you break down, but can still drive your vehicle

If you know there’s a problem, but you’re still able to drive safely, try and leave the motorway and then contact us.

If this isn’t possible, then either use an emergency refuge area or move to the left-hand side of the motorway.

Use an emergency refuge area:

If you’re unable to leave the motorway, aim for one of the emergency areas. As these areas can be up to 1.5 miles apart from each other, it’s worth noting when you last passed one so you can work out how close your next area is.

When you’re in an emergency area, make sure your hazard lights are on (as well as your sidelights if visibility is poor). Also, leave room behind and in front of your vehicle to allow emergency vehicle access.

Every emergency area has a phone that you can use to contact the local highways agency or the police – you’ll be automatically directed to them.

You can also call them from your mobile:

  • If you’re driving in England, call National Highways on 0300 123 5000.
  • If you’re driving in Scotland, call Traffic Scotland on 0800 028 1414.
  • If you’re driving in Wales, call Traffic Wales on 0300 123 1213.
  • If you’re driving in Northern Ireland, it’s recommended you call the police on 999.

If you’re safely in an emergency area, call the local highways agency before you get in touch with a breakdown cover provider. If you can’t safely leave your vehicle, or if you can’t get to an emergency area, call 999 immediately.

Move to the left-hand side of the motorway:

If an emergency area is not available, but you can still drive, the next best thing is to move to the left-hand side of the motorway. Use a hard shoulder if it’s available, or get your vehicle as close to the left-hand verge, boundary or a slip-road as possible.

If it’s safe to, have everyone leave using the left-hand doors, and if there’s a safety barrier, get behind it. Move away from the vehicle and stay at a safe distance from the motorway.

As your vehicle is not in an emergency area, call 999 as soon as you can. Make sure you call 999 before contacting your breakdown cover provider.

What to do if you break down on an active lane

What happens here depends on what lane you are in.

If you’re on the left-hand lane (lane one):

If you break down on the left-hand lane (also known as ‘lane one’), we will be able to come to your rescue. However, there are some steps you need to take to stay safe.

Where possible leave the vehicle by the left doors and follow the instructions above.

If this is not possible, and you can’t safely exit the vehicle, then do the following.

First, make sure your seatbelt is left on and that you’ve put on your hazard lights. Second, call the police on 999 immediately. They’ll work with the local highways agency to close the lane (using the red X mentioned before) to help keep you safe.

We will come to your rescue, with the help of a fend-off vehicle. This vehicle will sit further back on the lane to help shield you from other vehicles. This fend-off vehicle will come at no extra charge to you.

We will never attempt fix a problem on the lane. We will tow your vehicle off the motorway to somewhere safe. This minimises the amount of disruption to other traffic and enables our technician to inspect your vehicle safely.

If you’re on lanes two, three or four:

Breakdowns on these lanes need to be dealt with by the police or the local highways agency, as all lanes will most likely have to be closed.

If you’re unable to move to any of the areas previously mentioned, remain in your vehicle with your seatbelt and hazard lights on, then call the police immediately on 999. If you’re unable to call, stay calm. Smart motorways have control centres that use cameras to monitor the motorways. They will see the problem and will work to get you help as soon as possible. However, always call the police immediately if you are able to.

The future of smart motorways

The smart motorway debate is an ongoing one.

At Green Flag, our priority is – and always will be – customer safety. That’s why we’re an active member of SURVIVE (Safer Use of Verges In Vehicular Emergencies). This is an industry body made up mainly of government agencies and breakdown companies.

I personally sit on this, and we regularly discuss all areas of the breakdown process from the industry’s perspective.

We’re currently debating how well Highways England, which manages the motorway network on behalf of the Government, can support us in trying to increase driver awareness about smart motorways.

In the meantime, I’d like to reassure all drivers that we’re doing all we can to help ensure smart motorways are as safe as possible for everyone.

Read more about smart motorways here.

Damon Jowett is Green Flag’s head of service delivery – rescue

Safety information from GOV.UK (c) Crown Copyright

23 comments on “Green Flag and smart motorways: how to stay safe

  1. Stephen Whitaker 18/03/2020 9:32 PM

    What do you if you’re on a motorcycle and breakdown ? Pray ?

  2. Diana Allerton 19/03/2020 9:24 AM

    It beggars belief that anyone would support these so called smart motorways. They need to be STOPPED now. Your advice to people who break down on them is outrageous. WHAT – “stay in your car with your seatbelt on” – traffic travelling at around 80mph in each lane!

    What is the average time Green Flag takes to get to people who have broken down on these smart highways?

    Clearly, many more people are going to die. We must preserve the hard shoulder.

  3. Sheila Wise 19/03/2020 10:20 AM

    Thank you for this info.The man(in a TV interview) who said they are a good idea and will continue to provide them, does he and family travel many miles on the motorways.I could do London to Leeds in 3.5 to 4 hrs back in the 70s.To do the same journey in 5 hrs now is very good timing! Too many vehicles and not a good economical transport system. I class myself as a fairly experienced driver, I used to cover approx. 26,000 miles a yr. for work with 1 accident. This involved an HGV left hand drive. He didn’t see me and car needed new left side doors etc.

  4. T J Harrison 19/03/2020 11:26 AM

    In my opinion,having some 64years driving experience,Smart motorways are only as good as the monitoring efficiency.They are frightening roadways when you consider the potential for very serious accidents and should NOT form any part of our network.
    Hard shoulders themselves have always presented their own problems but at least there is a hope of avoiding fatalities.

  5. M. Moore 19/03/2020 6:34 PM

    Thank you very much valuable information as one feels exposed when having a motor problem on smart highways.

  6. Brian Pond 19/03/2020 7:06 PM

    Your info is very helpful and I find it reduces anxiety while M-way driving. Thank you.

  7. Peter Wright 20/03/2020 8:02 AM

    Smart Motorways don’t work they’re death traps. Imagine a family with children, luggage and a young baby. It doesn’t bear thinking of what sort of tragedy that could ensue if they were to breakdown. These motorways have been dreamed up for what, to keep traffic flowing, that’s a laugh. A lot of motorists, in my experience, ignore the gantry warning signs until the last minute. A bad accident waiting to happen in my view…..

  8. Michael Bossen 20/03/2020 8:22 AM

    I cannot believe anyone with half a brain could have contemplated suggesting a motorway without a hard shoulder for safety. They should be scrapped.

  9. Jean Robinson 20/03/2020 8:44 AM

    I think smart motorways are incredibly dangerous. A few years ago my daughter’s car broke down – just conked out, so she wouldn’t have been able to get to a refuge – and she had a toddler and a baby in the car. Had it been a smart motorway they’d possibly all have been killed.

  10. Eri Cheeseman 20/03/2020 10:45 AM

    Good advice I only hope following vehicle drivers are alert

  11. Anthony 20/03/2020 1:39 PM

    I used to feel safe driving on conventional motorways with a hard shoulder, but now I avoid the left lane on these ‘smart’ motorways because it can be difficult to integrate with traffic when vacating the so-called smart lane. I understand that it can be 15 minutes or longer for the lane to be closed if a vehicle is stuck there, plenty of time to be rear-ended by someone not paying attention.

  12. John Leavy 20/03/2020 3:15 PM

    I’ve been using Dynamic and All Lanes running motorways for some time (M6 West Midlands and M1 Yorkshire) and in my opinion as a driver with 52 years experience, they are the worst thing ever foisted on Motorway drivers. Speaking to my friends, they agree with my sentiments. Fortunately, I haven’t had an emergency while using such Motorways but I can see why there have been fatalities on them.

  13. Mrs J E Clark 20/03/2020 3:36 PM

    It seems to me that a policy requiring such a lot of extra attention and discussion is a mistake.

  14. Joyce Conway 20/03/2020 5:32 PM

    Thank you for all the valuable information and advice. I am terrified by the thought of breaking down on any of the smart motorways, especially when there are so many heavy vehicles travelling close by.

  15. Reginald Casbeard 20/03/2020 8:52 PM

    not everyone has a mobile phone so calling highways England or 999 isn’t possible

    • john clayton 22/03/2020 12:50 PM

      you can buy a mobile for ten pound if you use a motorway a lot better safe than sorry.

  16. Ray Tooley 20/03/2020 8:52 PM

    “Smart” motorways are nothing less than “Unsmart” lethat deathtraps: convenience and cheapness are far more important to all concerned than the safety or life loss of all who use them! I cannot truly believe that, in a country like ours, this system is even considered, let alone allowed! I try to avoid these M’ways at all costs.

  17. Jane Scott 20/03/2020 8:53 PM

    Very helpful information. Thank you.
    However I believe the time it takes to reach anyone in any lane where you cannot leave safely can be over 15 mins which is extremely scary. Has this time improved yet? Are Highways England decided to create more refuges as 1.5 miles is a long way and unacceptable.

  18. James Bamber 21/03/2020 4:29 PM

    Safe lives turn lane one back to a hard shoulder. I would sooner be late than DEAD. Have you asked members too say what they think , have a survey. let the drivers decide we want a say, we dont want a politician telling us its safe when we all know its a death lane.

  19. Alan Pojur 23/03/2020 4:47 PM

    I look forward to your excellent news letter and the advice and general information it contains. Someone will always find fault if they want to but you appear to cover all eventualities.

  20. Mr Geoff Bullen 24/03/2020 8:54 PM

    I have stopped driving to see my daughter in Thetford Norfolk because I need to travel on smart motorways.

  21. Geoff Bullen 24/03/2020 8:58 PM

    I feel I have a reliable vehicle but still worried about travelling on a smart motorway.

  22. david deeley 10/11/2020 10:30 AM

    Apart from stupid mini roundabouts this is the most idiotic and most dangerous idea they have come up with “lives do not matter obviously”.

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