Episode 1: Weight of Traffic

Watch this episode on BBC iPlayer
Broad­cast: BBC 2, 9pm, Tues­day 9 September

The first episode, Weight of Traf­fic, looks at con­ges­tion, road improve­ments and invest­ments, and envi­ron­men­tal work. This includes repairs and improve­ment work at Spaghetti Junc­tion and at junc­tion 10 to 10a of the M6. The hour-long pro­gramme, on BBC 2 at 9pm on Tues­day 9 Sep­tem­ber, also fol­lows a crew of lit­ter pick­ers who find some sur­pris­ing items at the road­side; overnight re-surfacing works; and traf­fic offi­cers attend­ing sev­eral inci­dents, includ­ing tyre blow-outs and breakdowns.

M6 motorway

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of vehi­cles use the M6 every day.

Issues raised in episode 1: Weight of Traffic

This episode fea­tures a dri­ver who is unsure what to do after suf­fer­ing a tyre blow-out on the M6. In most cases, dri­vers should pull over to the hard shoul­der as soon as pos­si­ble, and exit their vehi­cle. This guid­ance is cov­ered in the High­way Code. 

In this case, the dri­ver was unsure how to react, as her car was on a sec­tion of road with road­works, and there was no hard shoul­der. In all cases, dri­vers should try to keep mov­ing to the near­est safe place to stop.

The road­works scheme was to cre­ate a smart motor­way - which itself has no hard shoul­der, as it utilises it as an extra lane to improve traf­fic flow at peak periods.

You can learn more about smart motor­ways, includ­ing guid­ance on how to use them, on our smart motor­ways pages.

Smart motor­ways turn the hard shoul­der into a live lane. This helps cut con­ges­tion and keep traf­fic flow­ing. 

As part of our pub­lic­ity for smart motor­ways, we have taken part in the ‘Get smart, know your motor­waycam­paign, which includes YouTube videos explain­ing how smart motor­ways work.

This advice includes infor­ma­tion about what to do if your vehi­cle breaks down on a smart motor­way: 

If you need to stop in an emer­gency on a smart motor­way, use an emer­gency refuge area, motor­way ser­vice area or leave at the next junc­tion. If that’s not pos­si­ble, try to get your vehi­cle off the car­riage­way if it is safe to do so.

Use the hard shoul­der if it’s not open to traf­fic, or move onto the verge. Put your haz­ard warn­ing lights on.  

Exit the vehi­cle by the left-hand door if it’s safe to do so and wait behind the bar­rier if possible.

If you have no choice but to stop in a live lane, put your haz­ard warn­ing lights on to help other dri­vers see you, and help High­ways Agency con­trol room staff to spot you on CCTV. If you are in the left hand lane, and it’s safe to do so, exit the vehi­cle via the left hand door. Wait behind the bar­rier if pos­si­ble.  

If you can­not exit the vehi­cle, do not feel it is safe to do so, or there is no other place of rel­a­tive safety, remain in the vehi­cle. Keep your seat belt on and dial 999. As soon as the High­ways Agency is alerted, our regional con­trol cen­tre will use the signs and sig­nals to close lanes in order to pro­tect your vehi­cle until help arrives. We may also close lanes to allow access for emer­gency vehicles.

If a road user is on a sec­tion of smart motor­way, there is exten­sive CCTV so traf­fic offi­cers can zoom in on any broken-down vehi­cle once alerted to them (either by spot­ting them or get­ting a call about the break­down). They can set over­head signs to close the lane and slow traf­fic down, and can dis­patch a traf­fic offi­cer crew imme­di­ately. 

The High­way Code pro­vides gen­eral guid­ance on using the hard shoulder.

We have seen many instances of dri­vers stop­ping in live lanes to change tyres or attend other issues. This is dan­ger­ous and can cre­ate prob­lems for other road users.  

It’s impor­tant to be aware of the High­way Code in case you suf­fer a tyre blow-out or break­down on the motorway.

You can join Quentin Wil­son for a look at how to use the hard shoul­der on the High­ways Agency’s YouTube chan­nel. 

Infor­ma­tion about the hard shoul­der is cov­ered in ‘break­downs and inci­dents’ in Sec­tions 274 to 287 of the High­way Code.