Road tunnel safety

Keeping out of trouble and dealing with emergencies if they arise

The UK has an excellent record for tunnel safety but a fire in a tunnel can be lethal

The UK has an excellent record for tunnel safety but a fire in a tunnel can be lethal

If your journey takes you through one of Europe's longer road tunnels - the longest is 15 miles - it's important to know what to do in the unlikely event of an accident or fire.

The UK has an excellent record for tunnel safety but a fire in a tunnel can be lethal. Tunnel fires have killed around 90 people in Europe over the last 10 years.

If there is a fire, you're not just a spectator to an accident. You become a participant in a potential disaster so must know what's best for your own and others' safety.

Fire

The heat builds up very quickly. That is why fire detection and ventilation systems, and emergency exits, must be provided, why the emergency services must be summoned immediately, and why tunnel operators must be able to put emergency plans into operation seamlessly.

Driving in Europe

Driving in Europe you're more likely to find yourself using a road tunnel than you are in the UK.

You may well encounter longer tunnels than you're used to in the UK too – our longest tunnel is the Queensway tunnel under the Mersey at 3.2 km while there are many across Europe that are more than 10 km long.

The longest, the Laerdal tunnel in Norway, is 24.5km (more than 15 miles) long.

If you're planning on driving in Europe make sure you're familiar with the safety advice below – there'll be no-one there to tell you what to do if you get caught up in an incident.

Switch on headlights

Switch on headlights

Approaching the tunnel

  • Check your fuel level
  • Switch on the radio and tune into the traffic radio station if there is one
  • Switch on your headlights (low beam)
  • Take off your sunglasses
  • Pay attention to traffic lights and other traffic signs
Keep a good distance

Keep a good distance

In the tunnel

  • Keep a good distance from the vehicle in front
  • Observe speed limits (maximum and minimum)
  • Make a mental note of safety features – emergency exits and phones – as you pass
  • In tunnels with two-way traffic, use the nearside carriageway edge for orientation Never cross the centre line
  • Never make a U-turn or reverse
  • Don't stop, except in an emergency
Leave 5m if stopped

Leave 5m if stopped

Congestion

  • If traffic slows suddenly, turn on hazard warning lights
  • If traffic stops moving completely, leave a distance of at least five metres from the vehicle in front
  • If traffic stops moving turn off the engine
  • Do not leave your vehicle
  • Tune in to traffic radio if there is a system
Pull over into a lay-by

Pull over into a lay-by

Breakdown

  • Turn on hazard lights
  • Pull over into a lay-by, emergency lane or as far to the nearside as possible
  • Turn off the engine
  • Leave your vehicle – wear a reflective jacket and pay close attention to traffic
  • Notify the rescue services – use an emergency telephone rather than a mobile phone which is unlikely to work
  • Follow any advice from tunnel control – wait for help in the vehicle if there is no other place of safety
Use the Emergency phone

Use the Emergency phone

Accident

  • Turn on hazard warning lights
  • Park as far to the nearside as possible
  • Turn off the engine
  • Leave your vehicle – wear a reflective jacket and pay close attention to traffic
  • Call the rescue services. Use an emergency telephone rather than a mobile which is unlikely to work.
  • Help any injured people
Drive out of the tunnel if possible

Drive out of the tunnel if possible

If your vehicle catches fire

  • Turn on hazard warning lights
  • Drive out of the tunnel if possible – but never make a U-turn or reverse
  • If you can't drive out, drive to a lay-by, an emergency lane or pull over as far to the nearside as possible
  • Turn off the engine but leave the key in the ignition
  • Contact the rescue services – use an emergency telephone rather than a mobile which is unlikely to work
  • Only try to extinguish the fire yourself if is has just started – don't open the bonnet it may be hot and can increase the fire
  • If it's not possible to extinguish the fire, leave the tunnel quickly – move away from the fire and use emergency exits
  • Don't waste time gathering up personal belongings
  • Help injured people get to safety too
Never make a U-turn or reverse

Never make a U-turn or reverse

If another vehicle catches fire

  • Turn on hazard warning lights
  • Keep a good distance from the burning vehicle
  • Park your vehicle in a lay-by, emergency lane or pull over as far to the nearside as possible
  • Never make a U-turn or reverse
  • Turn off the engine – leave the key in the ignition
  • Call the rescue services – use an emergency telephone rather than a mobile which is unlikely to work
  • Only attempt to extinguish the fire yourself it is has just started. – don't open the bonnet it may be hot and can increase the fire
  • If it's not possible to extinguish the fire, leave the tunnel quickly – move away from the fire and use the emergency exits
  • Don't waste time gathering up personal belongings
    Help injured people get to safety too
Don't wait to be told what to do

Don't wait to be told what to do

Remember

  • In the event of a fire – don't wait to be told what to do
  • Never forget that fire and smoke can be fatal! Save your life and not your car!
  • Follow any instructions and information provided by tunnel staff

Testing tunnel safety

Motoring organisations across Europe, including the AA, have inspected and rated around 250 road tunnels, including a number in the UK, under the European Tunnel Assessment Programme, EuroTAP.

Search all tunnels tested »

(18 November 2011)