Breakdown communications

Solar-powered emergency telephones that allow deaf and non-English speaking people to summon help on the UK’s motorways and A-roads will begin appearing on hard shoulders in the spring.

The new emergency roadside telephone (ERT) will replace the familiar battered network of orange units.

The solar cell, which can function on minimal natural light, enables a phone to be installed in remote areas where it is impractical to run power cables to the unit. If insufficient light is available the device can be backed up by a battery.

Nottingham-based transport electronics specialist Jasmin, which spent two yearsdeveloping the ERT for the Highways Agency, has incorporated a range of advancedcommunications technologies into the unit.

The ERT includes an SMS text message link to a central control room, allowing the operator to communicate with stranded motorists if they are deaf, have speech difficulties or do not speak English.

The unit’s display screen offers users a selection of standard messages in a variety of languages that can be transmitted to the operator.

The Highways Agency has ordered 7,000 of the ERTs from Jasmin following several months of trials on the M11 and A12 in the south east of the country.

The units, which cost £1,600 each, will be rolled out at a rate of up to 100 per week from April.

Jasmin chairman Roger Plant said the Highways Agency had decided to press on with the upgrade of the ERT network even though the vast majority of motorists are now carrying mobile phones.

‘If your car breaks down at night when you have no signal on your mobile or the handset is out of power, you won’t be too pleased if there are no public units available,’ said Plant.

Other features of ERT include night-time illumination and a structure designed to collapse if a vehicle collides with it.

It is also designed to need minimal maintenance by automatically sending regular status reports to a highways control centre.