Safety: Expert tips on tunnel vision

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The Hindhead tunnel on the A3, Britain’s longest under-land tunnel, has just opened, heralding the start of vastly improved journeys on the main route between London and Portsmouth.

But tunnels can present problems for drivers, says Britain’s top advanced driver Peter Rodger of road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

For example, vehicle fires in Europe’s Mont Blanc and Gotthard tunnels have claimed 50 lives between them. Many died because they wrongly believed they should wait in their vehicles for help, rather than getting out of the tunnel immediately.

Accidents in tunnels, no matter how short the tunnel is, present unique problems and knowing what to do is very important. The IAM’s advice on driving in tunnels is:

Before entering a tunnel

Check your fuel gauge, don’t risk running out of fuel.

Turn on the traffic information channel. Some larger European road tunnels have their own radio as well as electronic signs.

Take off your sunglasses.

In the tunnel:

Turn on dipped headlights.

Don’t exceed the speed limit and leave extra room between yourself and the car in front.

Keep an eye out for the location of emergency pedestrian exits just in case you may need one.

In two-way tunnels, keep well to the nearside kerb.

Do not change lanes unless instructed to.

If you break down:

Switch on your hazard lights immediately.

Try to coast to a breakdown lay-by.

If none are available, stop as close to the nearside kerb as possible.

Turn off the engine but leave the key in the ignition so the vehicle can be moved.

Evacuate the vehicle making sure everyone is in a safe place - on the pedestrian walkway if there is one.

Put on a reflective jacket, if you have one, and walk carefully to the nearest emergency phone and inform the operator.

In the event of a fire:

Only try and extinguish the fire is if someone is in danger.

In all other cases leave as quickly as you can, don’t wait to be told what to do.

Peter said: “Motorists heading for Europe this summer are likely to use a road tunnel. For example the longest tunnel in Europe is Norway’s 15 mile Laerdal tunnel. Remember, if there is a fire or an accident, don’t wait to act -- fire and smoke can be fatal. Leave the vehicle and walk to a safe place. Save your life and not your car.”