Driver slams smart motorway refuge areas after M23 breakdown north of Gatwick

Jeremy Sutcliffe says he had difficulties getting into a refuge bay on the M23 Credit: ITV Meridian

The driver of a car which broke down on a stretch of smart motorways has described the emergency bays as 'inadequate'.

Jeremy Sutcliffe was using the M23 north of Gatwick when he developed a problem with his off-side rear tyre but says he couldn't stop in the first refuge because it was full.

The orange bays are dotted along the smart motorway network in replacement of the hard shoulder.

Speaking to ITV News Meridian, Sutcliffe said the refuge area was occupied by a lorry and recovery truck forcing him to continue a mile to the next or face stopping in a live lane,

"I've seen too many accidents where a car has stopped and it's been rear ended.

Watch: the journey Jeremy made from the first refuge, which he says was occupied, to the next

"It was definitely worrying because you're doing 30 mile an hour, which was as low as I dare go, but I dare go any faster with a flat rear tyre.

"It would've been up the hard shoulder everyone would've exited the car, up the embankment, or behind a barrier at a place of safety.

"It's ridiculous, we never needed more than three lanes, the junctions may have needed improvements with the off-ramps but I feel it's more dangerous now."

National Highways say refuge areas are setback from the carriageway and wider than the hard shoulder, with safety exercises to assess their capacity carried out in 2005 and 2017.

A refuge bay on the M23. National Highways say the emergency area is safer than a hard shoulder Credit: ITV Meridian

Latest data available from the organisation shows that between 2016 and 2020 there were no fatalities in refuge bays.

It comes as an investigation by ITV News Meridian reveals the varying size of the emergency areas with our measurements suggesting many have been built shorter the 100 metre design standard.

"100 metres is inadequate" says Jeremy who added "if they're not even made in an inadequate standard, then it's dangerous"

National Highways refutes our figures but acknowledges some sizes may vary,

National Highways Smart Motorways Alliance Manager Tony Slater said:“Emergency areas provide a safer place to stop than the hard shoulder; they are set back from the carriageway and are also wider than the hard shoulder.

“They are designed to a standard 100 metres in length, but in certain instances this may vary due to local geography.

“We carried out extensive work to test both the size and design of emergency areas in collaboration with the recovery industry and can assure they can accommodate several vehicles. We cannot verify the calculations made by ITV Meridian.”