Drivers are being urged to obey overhead smart motorway signs after a Northamptonshire fire engine was held up on its way to an M1 crash involving a lorry and two cars.
On March 12, firefighters from Mereway fire station in Northampton were called to a collision close to Watford Gap southbound services, within the stretch of smart motorway where the hard shoulder has become a fourth driving lane.
Arrows were displayed on overhead signs to move traffic from the outside lane before it was closed with red Xs to create an emergency access lane, but many drivers failed to move over, reducing the fire engine’s progress to a crawl as it approached the scene.
Rob Green watch manager of Mereway’s Red Watch said: “Drivers were waiting until the last moment before moving out of lane four, which slowed us right down.
“We no longer have a hard shoulder to travel down this stretch of smart motorway, and it’s really important that people move over as soon as they see arrows or red Xs so we have an emergency access lane to get to where we’re needed as quickly as possible.”
Travelling in the front passenger seat, watch manager (WM) Green shot a video showing how difficult it was to get through the queuing vehicles.
Upon their arrival, the crew made the scene safe and handed the incident over to police and highways. An elderly passenger in one of the cars suffered minor leg injuries but refused hospital treatment.
WM Green added: “The initial call indicated people could be trapped, which thankfully wasn’t the case. If it had been, the delay could have had serious consequences for any casualties.
“If you’re on a smart motorway and see arrows or red Xs displayed above a lane, please move out of it immediately.
"Even if you can’t see a reason for it yet, that lane has been closed for good reason and you doing the right thing could make the difference between life and death for someone.”
How the M1 smart motorway works:
Between junctions 16 and 19 of the M1, the hard shoulder has become a fourth driving lane, increasing the number of vehicles, which can use the road.
A regional traffic control centre monitors what is happening and responds to incidents, setting lane control and speed limits, and deploying resources to manage incidents.
Lanes can be closed, indicated by a red X on the overhead signs, for a number of reasons – there may be an accident or breakdown ahead, or the lane may be needed by the emergency services.
Tips for smart motorway driving:
- Never drive in a lane closed by a red X. If you see a red X closing a lane, move out of that lane promptly. If you don’t, you may receive a fine
- Keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries. A speed limit displayed inside a red circle is legally enforceable
- A solid white line indicates the hard shoulder - don’t drive in it unless directed
- A broken white line indicates a normal running lane
- If your vehicle experiences difficulties, exit the smart motorway immediately if possible
- Use the regularly spaced refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder
- Put your hazard lights on if you break down