Home Advice How to use the emergency refuge areas on smart motorways

How to use the emergency refuge areas on smart motorways

Smart motorway refuge area

Emergency refuge areas are a safe haven for stranded vehicles on busy smart motorways – but alarmingly, more than half of motorists don’t know what they are or how to use them.

That’s according to research by the RAC, which surveyed 2,000 drivers and found only 1.5 percent had ever used an emergency refuge area.

To clarify, emergency refuge areas, look similar to laybys and are located on stretches of motorway where there is no hard shoulder, or the hard shoulder is sometimes opened as a live lane .

They are usually highlighted in orange (see above) and are only meant to be used in an emergency – something 98 percent of motorists realise, according to the RAC research.

Make contact before re-joining the motorway

What many drivers don’t realise, however, is that you’re supposed to contact Highways England before rejoining the motorway if the hard shoulder is a running lane.

If you didn’t know this, you’re not alone – just one respondent to the RAC survey did.

Do you know how to use emergency refuge areas on smart motorways?

“It is essential that motorists understand how and when to use an emergency refuge area so they do not put their own safety and that of other road users at risk,” said the RAC’s chief engineer, David Bizley.

“Vehicles should pull up to the indicated mark on the tarmac or the emergency telephone and then the occupants should leave the vehicle from the passenger side.

“Everyone should stand behind the barriers and should use the emergency roadside telephone provided to speak to a Highways England representative.”

What is a smart motorway?

So-called ‘Smart’ motorways have become increasingly widespread, including the M25 and sections of the M6 and M1.

Traffic flow is controlled using variable speed limits displayed on the overhead gantries. Cameras monitor the motorways and lanes can be closed remotely if required, for example if a vehicle breaks down.

Emergency refuge areas are located on smart motorways and should be positioned every 1.5 miles, with an emergency roadside phone available to request assistance.

Smart motorways allow the hard shoulder to be opened as a live lane during busy periods to ease congestion. However, after a number of fatalities, this option is likely to be removed.

A consultation is currently in progress and the results are due soon.


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  1. Hello, I would like to know what happens if a driver cannot get to the refuge area, such as near a junction or other reason?


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