Blog : Hard shoulder hazard for classics

Andrew Elphick


On a long trip in your classic, the one thing you cross your fingers over is the threat of failing to proceed. It happens to us all at some point and always in the most inconvenient location: the dreaded breakdown.

Until 14 April, had you been on one of the nation’s busiest motorways at least you had the solace of the hard shoulder. Not any more… Since then, the M25 lost this refuge to ‘all lanes running’. Between junctions 23 and 25 (the A1 and the A10 Great Cambridge road), the M25 has gained an extra lane – but at the loss of the hard shoulder. Temporary hard shoulder usage has been in place for a while; however this is the first instance of a physical removal of the facility instead replaced with an emergency refuge area (lay-by) every 1.5 miles.

Simply coast to this point, argue the Highways Agency and safely park. Fair enough, but should you suffer a blowout, component seizure or sudden halting failure – what then? The all lanes running section of the M25 is part of the new era of ‘Smart motorways‘ – fully CCTV-monitored highways. If your vehicle stops so will that section of motorway – an overhead matrix sign will display a Red X indicating the upcoming lane closure. Traffic will divert round your stricken vehicle until a Highways Agency response vehicle arrives. That’s the theory.

The worst possible reality? You coast to a halt with no warning (or ability to warn that 40-tonne juggernaut following you), get several angry horns, toot as several vehicles nearly collide with your pride and joy – all while you struggle to clamber over 2ft of filthy Armco crash barrier. Don’t even think of attempting a quick fix!

I am a daily commuter of that section of the motorway, and I’m not convinced. Not by the analysis, and certainly not by the Highways Agency’s total lack of roadside information through the affected area – just the occasional matrix warning about the Red X. There wasn’t any prior notification of this change – just a sudden implementation overnight. The Highways Agency has produced several colourful information displays, yet chose not to post a single one roadside… just be careful out there in your classic.

For further useful information follow these Highways Agency links

Keith Adams
Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)


  1. Hard shoulder hazard for all.

    and no room for emergency vehicles to attend an accident if the worst happens as a result of a breakdown.

    If the hard shoulder is going to be used in this way, then the barriers have to be ripped up and a hard gravel refuge strip installed.

  2. “If your vehicle stops so will that section of motorway – an overhead matrix sign will display a Red X indicating the upcoming lane closure. Traffic will divert round your stricken vehicle until of Highways Agency response vehicle arrives. That’s the theory.”

    Until some Latvian trucker who is busy watching a DVD on his laptop and drinking a coffee ploughs straight into the rear of you at 56mph.

    I am waiting for the first fatality due to this lunatic policy.

    Some years ago one of my colleagues was badly injured (off work for 4 months and lucky to be alive) due to a sleeping trucker ploughing into the back of his broken down Vectra on the hard shoulder of the M6. there are already enough deaths on the hard shoulder — which is the most dangerous part of any motorway already, but this is going to be even worse.

    If you break down on any motorway, bail out and stay out. Best advice I can give.

  3. I predict that there will be a run of fatalities caused by this policy. Then and only then will it be seen by the powers that be as being motorway widening ‘on the cheap’ (although I suspect even that analysis is flawed), and the policy stopped.


  4. The Dutch have been turning their hard shoulders into slow lanes at peak times for some years.

    I wonder that the statistics are for accidents.

  5. Interesting that they now call them ‘Smart Motorways’ as the original title was ‘Managed’ often spoofed as ‘Mis-Managed’.

    I agree with Andrew, this is a bloody awful idea. The M25 should have been built with more lanes to begin with. I’ve never understood why that section was built to the same standard as say the M58 which carries a tenth of the number of cars.

    I saw one of those ‘Red X means lane closed’ signs yesterday on the M40 and thought ‘Well duh, what else would it mean?’ and drove on.

  6. Anything with the word “smart” in it means CCTV or you being monitored, trouble is, when humans are in the mix there is bound to be a balls at some point.

  7. @Darren

    Or, as I recently found, when the onslips try and join but are blocked by traffic, and an emergency vehicle tries to get past. Recipe for disaster.

  8. It’s not just your classic car that can cause a problem on these new types of motorways, a tyre related issue can stop any vehicle. and of course, on more modern cars you may have not have a spare wheel.

    The new system is wrong. full stop.

  9. I often think the people who make these crazy policy changes are “the wrong ones to be in charge”. They are not up to the job!

  10. You can bet a pound to pinch of s**t this was another of those top policies brought about by somebody that doesn’t even have a driving licence.

  11. Came back from wales last week on the M25.They closed the inner lane on the matrix.Most of the cars moved to the two outer lanes which ground to a halt.all the lorries stayed in the allegedly closed lane and sailed through. This bright idea was allow eastbound traffic from the A10 a clear lane to merge into.Due to the clowns operating these speed restrictions lane closers etc 9 times out of ten they are out of date or for no apparent reason and they are getting a credability [problem

  12. Bad idea and a sign of slipping standards. We have some of, if no the safest roads in the world, lets keep it that way.

  13. Its a sobriquet for lack of forward planning and investment.

    Infrastructure run by idiots. When the fatalities start “lessons will be learned” and all that shit.

  14. From my experience very few use the inside lane (do they think it cissy) so perhaps few will use the hard shoulder.

    Surprising on the 4 lane stretches how many drive at 60mph in the third lane.

  15. So much of this “congestion” is still down to poor lane discipline perhaps. The inside lane on most roads is so well trodden it’s a pot-holed mess which also contributes to people sticking to the other lanes.

  16. And don’t forget truck drivers taking up two lanes as one overtakes the other as it is going at 0.000001mph quicker….

  17. I have seen these in operation (only at peak times, and only when the speed is below about 35mph) – It does work, although it’s a cheap solution instead of building more lanes

  18. It,s not just classic cars which break down.Some cars are not that old and the make of car would surprise most people.

  19. ….What is even more frightening is on the “smart” motorway stretch of the M25 in Surrey /Kent, there is no lighting. Not only did one of the worst accidents in Motorway history take place in the fog on this stretch 20 years ago,it is amazingly one of the few stretches that still isn’t lit. I cannot imagine anything more terrifyingly incompetent & likely to result in death, than having hard shoulder running on a very busy motorway in rush hours that are in darkness for 5 months a year.

    Absolutely criminal.

  20. But how is a motorway with hard shoulder running any different to a 70mph dual carriageway with no hard shoulder – and not “managed” either? These days you don’t see as many cars marooned on motorways. In the early days you would have struggled to find a space to stop amongst the overheated, fuel starved, big end blown wrecks that passed as family cars. Not the case now. Perhaps it is time to stop wasting 25% of a motorways width.

  21. @ 21. True but one sick MINI Cooper is enough – one car in the wrong place at the wrong time is all it takes for the mother of all pile-ups to start. I’m amazed they havent remade the Final Destination films as a documentary series with some of the horrific accidents that have happened on various motorways both here and abroad.
    Its also Murphys law that if the car is going to keel over and die it will do so in the area without a hard shoulder at 5:30pm chock full of psychotic locals who think that 70 = 7000 on the rev counter. I know because it happened to us towing a caravan in the German part of Switzerland. Alternator had died and the car limped for miles gradually switching things off one after the other till it managed to drag itself, like a gutshot 3rd rate actress, to the beginnings of the NO STOP zone and then promptly coughed its last. Luckily there werent any LSD crazed Romanian truckers in attendance but it wasnt the best experience especially re safety when we were recovered off the motorway (with no brakes) down a 1:4 slip, at the bottom of which the guy stopped dead…
    Its actually gotten to the point I have refused to pay sections of council tax over monumental incompetance & I seriously wonder why we are paying road tax when in alot of cases you’d get a better driving experience driving a trabant through the somme circa 1918..

  22. @ 20.

    You cant use the word ‘criminal’ – they’re the British Government, its not possible for a British Government to commit a criminal act, you’d need to change the laws of physics. The correct terminology for anything up to a massacre of women and children by British troops is a “unforseeable series of unfortunate events”. Beyond that its an instant “Royal Commission” translated to normal-speak “A way to kick the issue into the long grass”

    You’ll be saying the Justice Department dispenses actual Justice next..

  23. Just for your info, As an emergency service worker covering this part of the M25, I haven’t spoken to a single colleague who thinks this is a good idea. The idea that a defective vehicle can always make it to a refuge point is a nonsense. The difference between this segment of the M25 and a normal dual carriageway is that the M25 has Armco 3ft from lane 1 therefore giving no opportunity to get the vehicle off of the carriageway. Combine this with no night time lighting and a particularly twisty piece of Motorway and you have a recipe for disaster. As far as having red crosses indicating obstructed lanes, There are certain road users who cant see a car with blue lamps, Rear reds 10 cones behind it and reflective markings. The chances of these seeing a red cross is fairly slim. This is a plan to expand the Motorway capacity at minimum cost, no more, no less.

  24. @24 And a transport minister will add flowery words to the idea and hey presto…………

    As soon as multiple fatalities occur will those ministers stand up and be counted?

  25. @24, Jeff this is encouraging but sad news, I didn’t even contemplate the danger for rescue and emergency services staff…

  26. Let’s face it – the country is massively over-populated against the will of the people and this bodge which is yet another dent in safety and a reduction in quality of life is the politicians’ solution to the problems they caused for all of us.

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