Surviving Motorway Delays

10 tips to help

Recent years have seen people trapped on motorways for long periods due to the weather or other incidents beyond their control. Drivers need to be ready for delays on any journey, long or short.

These 10 tips should help you make sure you are both ready for a delay, and well equipped if the bad dream becomes a nightmare.

Understand the problem

1. Motorways have to close

There will always be accidents, and motorways will have to close to allow the emergency services to deal with them. Legislation also requires the police to carry out a full examination if someone dies or if there's the possibility of a fatality. Ice, snow and floods close motorways too.

2. Delays are inevitable

Usually there are contingency plans for diverting traffic around a closed motorway. However, it won't be a three lane, almost junction-free dual carriageway, and it won't be free of local traffic. It will have the speed limits, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings we expect to find off the motorway network too. This will cause delays – both to those on the motorway and those in the local area. If bad weather closes a motorway it will close local roads too.

Some traffic will be caught between the last junction and the incident – it's not easy to turn these people round and get them off the motorway.

3. Long journey, short journey

If you use motorways for short, local journeys you can be caught in a delay too. And if a nearby motorway is closed traffic havoc can result for miles around.

It's advisable always to consider how a possible delay could affect you, your passengers and anyone you may be picking up en route too.

Be prepared

4. Too hot, too cold

Long winter delays leave many people literally freezing, while being trapped on a motorway in high summer can lead to dehydration. Basic preparation – making sure there is a coat in the car (perhaps a blanket or an emergency blanket) and making sure you carry some water – can make delays more bearable. Think about what you're wearing, too.

Running the engine can provide heat (via the heater), but also uses fuel. The best compromise is to run the engine for 10 minutes in every hour. Make sure the exhaust is not blocked, particularly by snow. If it is gasses can build up inside the car.

5. Keeping in touch

Don't forget to take your mobile phone – make sure it's charged or that you have a charger or car lead. If you're meeting someone (especially to give them a lift) make sure they have a phone and that you exchange numbers.

6. Individual problems

People in your car may need medicines or treatments. Make sure you carry them with you on any journey.

7. Check the road and the weather

There are many websites and telephone services that tell you about road and weather conditions – use them before you go. Variable message signs on motorways provide important information too and can allow you to change your route to avoid congestion.

8. Build yourself an emergency kit

  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Torch
  • Warm clothes and a blanket
  • A pair of boots
  • First-aid kit
  • Battery jump leads
  • A shovel if it's likely to snow
  • Food and a warm drink in a flask for particularly cold weather, water for hot weather.

When you are held up

9. Stay with the car

It's tempting to leave the car in the queue and head for local facilities, especially if they can be seen from the motorway. Queues can end as fast as they form though, and if your car is left blocking the motorway you could be in trouble.

At night and in bad weather avoid leaving the car and heading for distant lights. They could be further than they appear and whoever lives there may not welcome strangers. You could also have difficulties finding your way back to the car.

10. Expect the worst

Remember that you could be stuck for some time. Keep something in reserve. Monitor the situation by using the radio, and use your mobile phone to make sure someone knows where you are.

The AA Says

Highway authorities are well geared for bad weather and other emergencies. However, there is some scope for further improvements, particularly they could:

  • Ensure major diversion routes are adequately signed (ideally permanently through use of the "dots and diamond" system).
  • Use innovative measures - e.g. central barrier removal or turning traffic round - at the worst incidents.
  • Give drivers who are stuck as much information as possible as to roughly how long the hold up will last. Variable message signs, traffic radio or traffic officers with loud hailers can do this.
  • Make greater efforts to close motorway access points quickly to prevent people joining a 'motorway going nowhere'.
  • Pursue even better liaison between local, national highway operations staff and the emergency services.

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