Emergency refuge areas

Why do some motorways have emergency areas, and how do they work?

Motorway refuge area

You’ve probably seen the blue signs on the motorway saying, ‘Emergency area’ (formerly known as emergency refuge areas), but do you know what they are and when you can use them?

With the introduction of smart motorways in the UK, these emergency areas (or EAs for short) have been added so motorists have somewhere to pull over in case of an emergency.

What is an emergency area?

An emergency area is a 'place of relative safety' which you can pull into if you have an emergency and need to stop on an all-lane running motorway. You'll find emergency areas at regular intervals along smart motorways.

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Why do smart motorways have emergency areas?

Smart motorways sometimes use the hard shoulder as an extra lane, either permanently or to ease traffic congestion. EAs have been introduced to replace the hard shoulder, although they are only located at specific intervals along the motorway and are designed for emergency use only.

How far apart are emergency areas?

You’ll find these EAs at varying intervals along all-lane running smart motorways (usually 500-metre intervals), with an emergency phone available so you can call for help. In the interest of safety, the AA has been campaigning for shorter distances between emergency areas since smart motorways were introduced.

Each emergency area has a highly visible orange road surface and a large blue sign with an orange SOS telephone symbol on it to improve visibility.

How to use an emergency area

You should only use an emergency area if you’ve broken down or have been involved in an accident while on a smart motorway.

Arrows on the road will direct you into a designated area painted orange, where you should stop and switch on your hazard warning lights.

What to do if you've stopped in an emergency area

All passengers should exit the vehicle on the left-hand side and stand behind the crash barrier, as far away from passing traffic as possible.

The SOS telephone is available free of charge and should be used to call a representative at National Highways who will provide further instructions.

Don't attempt any repairs to your vehicle, no matter how minor, in one of these emergency areas. Rather, wait for your breakdown service to assist you, as they will have all the necessary tools needed, or will be able to tow you to a garage if the issue can't be repaired on the side of the road.

If your car develops a serious issue, it’s safest to go to the left most lane and exit the vehicle via the left side and cross the barrier. If you come to a stop in a live lane on the motorway and can’t get to an emergency area, it isn’t safe to get out of your car so stay in your vehicle, keep your seatbelt on, switch your hazard lights on and call 999 immediately.

How to rejoin the motorway safely

Emergency areas are only short lay-bys and they're not long enough to build up speed before re-joining the motorway.

Before leaving, you must contact the Regional Control Centre. They’ll dispatch a National Highways Traffic Officer and/or set signs and signals (red 'X') to help you back onto the motorway safely.

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