Seeing Red! Or not, as it turns out

Making motoring news recently is the ignoring by motorists of those red ‘X’ signs above smart motorway lanes. To be clear, the penalty for doing so from April 2019 is a £100 fine and three penalty points. No quibble, no discussion. This puts the punishment on a par with the dangers of running a red light, which is about right.

Driving in a closed smart motorway lane has been an offence since March 2018, but Highways England, the government-owned company responsible for the UK’s motorways, admitted last summer it was waiting for Home Office use approval for the cameras it will deploy to automatically enforce so-called red ‘X’ offences.

Highways England take a very dim view of those drivers who do not follow the signs of the new smart motorway gantries and brand the act as extremely dangerous and one that could lead to more incidents especially if lanes are closed due to accidents or breakdowns.

Research by the RAC suggests that more than a fifth of drivers flaunt the regulation on a regular basis. This is despite there being no lack of understanding by drivers as to what the red ‘X’ actually means. Apparently, 99 per cent knew it meant a lane is closed and must not be driven in. Most have been doing it because they think they can away with it.

In the past two years, Highways England has issued over 160,000 warning letters to drivers who had either used a section of hard shoulder when it was not designated as a running lane, or had ignored a red ‘X’ sign.

Red ‘X’ signs appear on the overhead gantries of several, so-called ‘smart’ motorways across the UK, most prominently on parts of the M1, M4, M6, M25, M42 and M62.

There are over 300 miles of ‘smart’ motorway currently in operation across the UK. They make use of the hard shoulder during heavy traffic to ease congestion, by using the new gantry signs for each lane. When they decide to close the hard shoulder or any other lanes due to an accident or breakdown, a red ‘X’ is displayed above the lane. They also use the signs to regulate traffic flow by setting variable speed limits.

More and more upgrades to the existing motorway network are planned with 480 miles of motorway joining sections of the M1, M4, M5, M6 and M42 which have already been modified.

A Highways England spokesman said: “Safety is at the heart of everything we do and our roads are among the safest in the world. We close lanes for a reason and drivers who ignore overhead red X’s place both themselves and others at considerable risk.

“Since we started issuing warning letters we have seen a decrease in the number of drivers ignoring lane closures,” he added.

So, when travelling on our national ‘smart’ motorways, let’s all try to be a little smarter, eh?