Trials of high-visibility orange smart motorway emergency areas are being extended to the M1, after first being launched on the M3 near Camberley in July.
The new-look emergency areas have orange road surfaces and benefit from much clearer advance signage, as Highways England tries to both improve their visibility and encourage their safe use.
14 of the new-look orange emergency areas are being installed on the M1 between junction 16 (Northampton) and junction 19 (Catthrope) as part of an ongoing smart motorway upgrade for the busy section.
What is a smart motorway?
A smart motorway is one using variable speed limits to control traffic flow and try to avoid stop-start congestion. Since 2004, smart motorway upgrades have also converted the hard shoulder into an additional running lane for when traffic is heavy.
An extended CCTV network helps Highways England operators monitor the motorway: they can immediately close lanes when they observe an incident.
Highways England says smart motorways improve journey times “and are just as safe as conventional motorways”. Some drivers remain confused by them – for example, continuing to drive on the hard shoulder when it is closed.
This is why Highways England is stepping up efforts to inform motorists. A national TV, radio and social media campaign is currently running, to tell drivers not to use lanes closed by ‘Red X’ overhead signs.
Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan hopes the move will help allay motorists’ safety concerns over smart motorways. “We recognise the public concern about smart motorways and we will also believe that changes such as these will help drivers have confidence when using them and be clear about where they can stop in an emergency.”
Hence the new orange emergency areas. “The bright orange colouring will make them as easy as possible to spot and should also discourage drivers from using them in non-emergency situations.
“I hope it helps drivers feel more confident about using a smart motorway.”