Motorway services – road safety or rip-off?

Policy issued on 15/02/16 |
Motorway Services

Encouraging drivers to take regular breaks from driving is the Government’s main objective for motorway service areas (MSAs).

But if drivers don’t believe motorway services are attractive places to take a break, many won’t stop and they will exercise their consumer choice and continue driving, or leave the motorway to seek out alternative facilities.

From petrol to polo mints, MSA customers pay significantly higher prices than they would pay at retail outlets off the motorway network. This is mainly because MSA operators have higher running costs because they have to be open 24/7 and 365 days of the year, but also because there is no competition between service areas on the same motorway. It has been estimated that well over half of visitors stop only to use the toilets or to take a break from driving, without buying anything.

Just a few years ago, Britain’s MSAs were bottom of the European league for quality and value.

Operators have invested heavily and worked hard to achieve higher standards, but motorists continue to pay high prices. Recently, the government announced some relaxation of the ancient rules on MSA signing by allowing descriptions of what is available to be included on the advanced signing. The IAM believes this does not go far enough and it is now time for another independent inquiry into how motorway service areas can serve motorists better, and make our motorways even safer.

IAM RoadSmart recommendations

  • Convene an independent inquiry to review all the rules and to propose reforms
  • Trial fuel-only rest areas that also sell a small range of snacks and goods, and which operate successfully on the continent
  • Following the recent M5 trial install signs showing the price of fuel at the next service areas
  • Introduce independent inspections for quality and value
  • Produce a national strategic /aspirational plan for service areas based on user needs
  • The Government gives no money to support its objective to make motorways safer by encouraging drivers to ‘take a break’ - this should change
  • Encourage more park-and-ride and car-share at service areas
  • Assess if the often strictly enforced two hour maximum free parking limit at many MSAs is working against the core objective of encouraging drivers to take an adequate break