Orange appeal

Published on 11 September 2017

Back in July we reported on Highways England's new orange emergency lay-bys and made a prediction about where they might be seen next. What's happened since then?

The trial - running now for two months - will see whether Smart Motorway "emergency areas" are easier to see and better understood by motorists when presented in a new orange colour scheme and highlighted by new signs with symbols instead of written information. We provided a full explanation at the time.

Our prediction was that they would first be rolled out onto the northern side of the M25, a section of Smart Motorway with permanent all-lane running (and therefore no hard shoulder) where the existing emergency lay-bys are particularly badly affected by lorry parking and other non-emergency uses and even more wordy signs than usual have been erected in an attempt to mitigate the problems caused when large, slow vehicles begin lumbering out of the lay-bys after a snooze.

Were we right?

Well, not quite...

The next lay-bys turning orange are actually on the M1, on the section between junctions 16 and 19 that is currently being upgraded to Smart Motorway. Fourteen emergency areas on that stretch will turn orange very soon - in fact some already have, though not yet all of them. They are not yet in use, but can be seen behind the cones and temporary barriers. This next phase of the trial was announced in early August.

But we were nearly right, because the third phase of the trial, announced a couple of weeks ago, will to turn a small number of existing emergency areas orange on the northern side of the M25.

The first of these is up and running, complete with new signs, on the anti-clockwise carriageway between junctions 25 (the A10 at Waltham Cross) and 24 (Potters Bar). In fact, if you happen to drive that way, it doesn't just have the new sign at the lay-by, but also has extra signs counting down to it from a mile and a half ahead. The countdown signs risk becoming sign clutter on a Smart Motorway that already has lots of extra signs by the wayside, but if they help drivers find the lay-by in an emergency and learn to avoid it at other times then it will be worth it.

What's more, Highways England have made it clear that - if the trial is successful and the future is orange - the first full installation of orange Smart Motorway emergency areas will be on the rest of the M25 northern side between junctions 23 and 27, and also on the southern side between junctions 5 and 7. Those are the Smart Motorway sections most traversed by foreign HGVs, which might back up our original theory about the reasons for the trial.

The stamp of approval

One final bit of news for this update (courtesy of Bryn from the Show Me A Sign blog): the new sign, including a range of variants showing distances to the emergency area, has now received official authorisation from the Department for Transport, and the full official diagrams are available to view online. The authorisation gives away one further location for the trials - as well as the M3 and M25, the signs have also been authorised on the M5 between junctions 4A and 6, so keen sign enthusiasts in the West Midlands might well have their own citrus-coloured tarmac very soon.


Chris Bertram 18 September 2017

At least one emergency refuge area has been painted orange on the M5 northbound between J5 and J4a, again this is an ALR Smart Motorway section.

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Picture credits

  • Photographs of the trial emergency area on the M3 are courtesy Highways England.

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