Work will soon begin to upgrade the M3 between Junctions 9 and 14 (Winchester to Eastleigh) to a Smart motorway. Site clearance and preparation works will start in the winter, with main construction scheduled from later in 2020 until 2022. When complete, the upgraded motorway will neatly dovetail between the new Smart M27 and the proposed improved junction layout at Winnall. Does this sound like a coordinated plan of road improvement schemes? I think it does.
A Smart motorway is a motorway with an extra lane instead of the hard-shoulder. A host of electronic gismos allow Highways England to monitor traffic flows, respond to incidents, and generally keep the traffic moving.
As someone who regularly experiences the M3 rush-hour, an extra lane is something to be welcomed – particularly on the hills through and either side of the Twyford cutting.
Hang on a minute, you may be thinking. Removing the hard shoulder on a multi-lane, high-speed road doesn’t seem very ‘smart’. A good point, well put. But:
- Motorways with hard shoulders were invented when cars were not very reliable, and not built to sustain motorway driving.
- Modern vehicles have complex engine management systems that can warn of problems long before the driver is aware of them. These systems can also put vehicle into a ‘limp home’ more which should be enough to get you to a place of safety.
- There will still be emergency lay-by areas at frequent intervals to be used in the case of breakdown.
- Electronic signs will give drivers advance warning of hazards coming up. Lanes can be quickly closed to bypass incidents. Speed limits can be quickly adjusted to match traffic conditions.
- There already are multi-lane, high-speed roads in the country that don’t have a hard shoulder: Dual-carriageways. The A34, from Winchester to Oxford, for example. And is there a road more desperately crying out for an extra lane than the A34?
Highways England will be holding a series on information events in coming weeks. These events will provide information on driving on smart motorways in general, and of the M3 upgrade in particular.
- Tuesday 17 September 2019, 10:00am – 5:00pm, Swan Shopping Centre, Well Place, Eastleigh, SO50 5SF
- Thursday 19 September 2019, 12:00 noon – 7:00pm, Winchester Discovery Centre, Jewry Street, Winchester, SO23 8SB
- Tuesday 24 September 2019, 11:00am – 6:00pm, Guildhall Square, Above Bar Street, Southampton, SO14 7DU
- Friday 27 September 2019, 1:00pm – 7:00pm, Otterbourne Village Hall, Cranbourne Drive, Otterbourne, SO21 2ET
More information can also be found on the Highways England website.
Motorway Breakdown Advice
So, what should you do if you are unlucky enough to break down on a motorway?
- If your vehicle is still drivable, try to get to the next junction or service area. This is a much safer place to stop. In fact, if your car can be towed, the breakdown service will tow you there rather than attempt a repair at the roadside.
- If your car cannot be driven, pull on to the hard shoulder or emergency area. Try to stop near an emergency phone. Park as far to the left as possible, with your wheels turned towards left (then, if your car is hit by another vehicle, it will be pushed into the verge rather than the carriageway).
- Remember that even if you have lost power, you should be able to coast to the hard shoulder or emergency area. Put your foot on the clutch or drop the gear to neutral to prevent friction from the engine reducing momentum. If you ever get the chance to drive somewhere where such action wouldn’t be dangerous, try coasting to a stop from 70 mph. You’ll be surprised how far you can get. Please DO NOT do this on a public road: if it’s safe to drive at 70 mph, it’s not safe to stop; if it’s safe to stop it’s not safer to drive at 70 mph.
- The driver and all passengers should leave the car by the nearside doors. An exception may have to be made for the driver as handbrakes and gear sticks may make it difficult for the driver to climb over to the passenger seat, but all other occupants should leave from the nearside. Animals should be left in the car (this isn’t just good practice; it’s the law). Move well away from the carriageway and hard shoulder.
- Phone your breakdown service when everyone is out of the car. If you need other assistance, use the emergency phone to contact a Highways England operator. This operator can also contact the breakdown service for you. Walk to the nearest phone (arrows on the marker post will tell you which way to go) keeping well to the edge of the hard shoulder – if possible, the other side of the barrier. I did recently see someone walking along the central reservation from a stranded vehicle. Even though the traffic was moving slowly owing to an incident further up the motorway, it didn’t strike me as a practice that is generally conducive to a long and happy existence.
- You will need to give your location. This will be from the marker post (approx. every 100 yards) or driver location sign (approx. every 500 metres). A few years ago, I found out that “just before Winchester Services” isn’t good enough. Yes, I had been trying to coast to the service area.
- Driver Location signs are displayed at approximately 500-metre intervals on many motorways and show the motorway, the carriageway (A for one way; B for the otter; other letters are used on slip roads and links roads between motorways) and how far from or to the start. The distance is in km for reasons that escape me, when all other distances are measured in miles.
- Do not attempt any repairs – no matter how simple. Wait for the vehicle with bright flashing lights to arrive and offer some visibility and protection. The Highways England vehicles also carry fuel, water, and warm and waterproof clothing for you and your passengers.
- Speaking of visibility and protection, don’t’ use a warning triangle. It’s too dangerous to walk back to place it and, if hit by a passing vehicle, could cause more damage. In that last bit I meant the triangle’s being hit, thought the same sentiment and more would apply to the person carrying it.
- And finally, remember that an emergency area, whether it be a hard-shoulder or a lay-by, is for exactly what it says on the tin. Emergencies. That is, illness to your car or its passengers that render it impossible or unsafe to continue to the next junction or service area. Not comfort breaks; not checking the map; not using a mobile phone. Please tell me that that last bit was unnecessary.
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