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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Highways England launches biggest ever motorway safety campaign

If you break down - go left! That’s the message today from Highways England as it launches its biggest ever campaign to help drivers feel safer on the country’s motorways.

In a multi-million pound public information drive the company is giving motorists clear advice about what to do in an emergency.

Millions of journeys are made every day on the country’s busiest roads – motorways and major A-roads – and most are incident-free. But around 600 journeys a day involve a breakdown, and when you are on a busy motorway that can be frightening.

So today Highways England is setting out what drivers should do if they encounter problems with their vehicle – go left. The campaign is being supported by partners across the recovery industry and independent road safety campaigner Meera Naran.

Set to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys’ hit version of the ‘Go West’ song, the advert delivers a clear, single-minded message – go left. Testing with focus groups found that the distinctive characters, music and humour made the important message very memorable and people will remember what to do in the event of an emergency.

Highways England Acting Chief Executive, Nick Harris, said

No one plans to break down on a motorway, but if the unexpected happens then I want all motorists to know what to do so that they can keep themselves and others safe. Everyone wants a safe journey and raising awareness is a vital part of helping to make sure that happens.
This new campaign and its ‘Go left’ message is designed to deliver crucial information in an accessible way and to help make motorways safer for the people who use them. This campaign is just one of the many steps we are taking to invest in our network with safety as our number one priority, doing everything we can to help drivers feel confident on our motorways.

The campaign is part of an 18-point action plan set out in the Evidence Stocktake published by the Department for Transport in March last year.

The Transport Secretary called on Highways England to deliver the campaign to improve safety and public confidence on smart motorways. The minister has requested a report updating progress on the action plan to date.

Meera Naran is campaigning for Safer Drivers on Safer Roads following the tragic death of her eight-year-old son Dev on the M6. She said:

Having successfully campaigned for the implementation of the 18-point safety plan – this education campaign is an integral step in the right direction to support motorists. I’m pleased to see it is being supported by so many key road safety organisations and my only hope is that it will help save lives.

In 2019 there were almost 230,000 reported breakdowns across the Highways England network including around 207,500 on motorways. In the 12 months from June 2019, around 40,000 breakdowns were recorded as being due to tyre issues while more than 6,000 incidents were a result of vehicles running out of fuel.

The advice to drivers who experience a problem with their vehicle is to leave the motorway if possible. But if that is not possible, Highways England recommends the following:

Go left

  • put your left indicator on and move into an emergency area, onto a hard shoulder, motorway service area, left-hand verge or A-road lay-by

  • switch your hazard warning lights on, even during the day. If it’s dark, use side lights and in poor visibility use fog lights as well

  • on a motorway without a hard shoulder, it should be possible for most vehicles experiencing a problem to reach an emergency area. These are regularly spaced and are marked by a clearly visible orange road surface and blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol

Go left – if you have vehicle problems and can’t get off the motorway you can use an emergency area

Get safe

  • if it is safe to do so, and you can get out with any passengers, exit your vehicle on the side furthest from traffic. If it is not safe to do so, stay in your vehicle and wait for help

  • keep well away from moving traffic and your own vehicle. Get behind a safety barrier where there is one, and where it is safe to do so. If you’re on a verge, be aware of any unseen hazards such as uneven ground or debris

Get help

  • contact Highways England on 0300 123 5000 and then a breakdown recovery provider

  • if you are unable to exit your vehicle and get to a safe place, have stopped in a live traffic lane or feel your life is in danger, stay in your vehicle with your seatbelts and hazard lights on and call 999 immediately

AA president, Edmund King OBE, said:

Breaking down on a motorway is a daunting prospect. As motorway design has changed since many of us passed our test, it is vital to inform drivers what they should do in rare but worse-case scenarios. This welcome new campaign reminds drivers to ‘go left’ should their vehicles develop faults and if possible, get off the motorway. However, if they can’t, then they should head for the next emergency zone. Some breakdowns can be avoided completely, so drivers should take five minutes before setting off to ensure their tyres are inflated correctly, that they have enough fuel or electric charge and that engine fluids are topped up.

RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said:

Suffering a breakdown on a motorway or a high-speed road can be one of the most terrifying things that drivers might encounter, so it’s important everyone has a clear understanding of what to do in that situation. We’re pleased to see Highways England addressing this issue in its new campaign which encourages drivers to ‘go left’. This is a simple and effective message that will hopefully improve safety on our motorways and major dual carriageways by reducing the number of vehicles that stop in live lanes.

Highways England’s customer contact centre has people on hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help. Drivers should keep the Highways England number – 0300 123 5000 – in their phones in case of emergency.

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