Emergency area width review

Emergency area width review

We recognise that drivers are concerned about not being able to find a safe place to stop in an emergency. On smart motorways, the hard shoulder is replaced by emergency areas where drivers can stop, if they cannot make it to the nearest motorway service area or exit the motorway. Smart motorways also have a system of additional safety measures which are not in place on conventional motorways.

Emergency areas are wider than hard shoulders and set back from live traffic lanes – so a vehicle in one is much less likely to be struck by moving traffic.

In March 2020, the Secretary of State for Transport published the Smart motorway evidence stocktake and action plan, which set out 18 actions that will further improve safety on smart motorways.

The plan included an action to review all existing emergency areas and to widen any which were less than the current standard, if feasible and appropriate. The current standard width is 15 foot (4.6 metres). Design standards before 2015 permitted emergency area widths to be 13 foot (4 metres) where necessary. A conventional hard shoulder is 11 foot (3.3 metres) wide.

We commissioned an independent review to evaluate the widths of all emergency areas on operational sections of smart motorways.

Independent review findings

The review concluded:

Emergency areas between 14 foot five inches and 15 foot wide

The difference between these emergency areas and the current standard width of 15 foot is only seven inches (0.2 metres) – the width of a white line.

Widening these emergency areas would not give any measurable safety benefit.

Emergency areas less than 14 foot five inches

These emergency areas - a total of 13 – should be investigated further.

The review included a location-specific high-level assessment of the feasibility of widening these 13 emergency areas.

Our response to the independent review

Seven emergency areas are on dynamic hard shoulder sections which will be upgraded to all lane running motorways by the end of March 2025. We are already examining these emergency areas as part of this upgrade programme.

We have carried out on-site measurements of the remaining six emergency areas on all lane running sections. This showed three are wider than 14 foot five inches and, as widening would not provide any measurable safety benefit for drivers, no action is required.

We have assessed the viability and impact of widening the remaining three locations. At one location, widening could worsen visibility to and from the emergency area. There would therefore likely be a detrimental impact on safety and therefore we will take no further action.

For the remaining two locations, which are on the M1 and M25, we have completed feasibility assessments of the work required to widen the emergency areas and are progressing the necessary design and safety assessment activities.

Our programme

We have started the design work to widen the two emergency areas on all lane running sections. We will complete the widening by March 2023.

We will complete the assessment of the emergency areas on dynamic hard shoulder sections and any resulting actions by the end of March 2025. This will be part of our programme to upgrade these sections to all lane running.


This file may not be accessible. Request a different format

The Government's 2020 Smart Motorway Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan included an action to review existing emergency area widths. Where they are narrower than the current standard a commitment was made to widen them if feasible and appropriate. This report summarises the findings of an independent review, and our response and the actions we are taking.

This file may not be accessible. Request a different format

The Government's 2020 Smart Motorway Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan included an action to review existing emergency area widths. Where they are narrower than the current standard a commitment was made to widen them if feasible and appropriate. This report details our response to an independent review and includes the actions we are taking.

This file may not be accessible. Request a different format

The Government's 2020 Smart Motorway Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan included an action to review existing emergency area widths. Where they are narrower than the current standard a commitment was made to widen them if feasible and appropriate. This report details the findings of an independent review of emergency area widths and includes for the narrowest emergency areas a high-level assessment of the feasibility of widening.

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