Drivers who put their own and others' lives at risk by ignoring lane closure signs on smart motorways can now be given points on their licence if they are caught on camera. An instant £100 fine and three penalty points could be on the cards for anyone ignoring the red X telling them not to continue in that lane.
Motorway rules haven't changed – it's always been illegal to go through a red X, but police previously had to catch drivers in the act. Since June 10, they can also be penalised if they are caught on traffic cameras.
A smart motorway is one where there is no hard shoulder, as it has been converted into a fourth lane – either permanently or temporarily – to cope with increased traffic.
Because there isn't a hard shoulder – there are regular lay-bys, called refuge areas, to pull into instead – the motorways are under constant CCTV surveillance, so that if there's an accident or someone breaks down, a red X can immediately be displayed on the overhead gantries to close that lane. Lanes might also be closed to let emergency services through, or because of roadworks.
Quite a lot of people, apparently. Highways England, the government body responsible for motorways, has sent more than 180,000 warning letters to drivers who have ignored red Xs since the beginning of 2017.
Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “Our research shows that one in 20 drivers continue to drive in lanes with a red X, even when they’ve seen it.” In a survey by the RAC in March, 23 per cent of drivers said they had driven through a red X either “occasionally accidentally” (19 per cent), “often accidentally” (one per cent), or “occasionally on purpose” (three per cent).
Highways England says smart motorways have made journeys more reliable (though it is not clear how this was measured), more than halved the number of accidents in which people have been injured, and reduced serious injuries.
However, safety groups and motoring organisations continue to express concerns about them, not least because of the removal of the hard shoulder. In 2017, there were 16 crashes involving stationary vehicles on smart motorways, which now cover about 416 miles, compared with 29 crashes involving vehicles on the hard shoulder on the rest of England’s motorways, which cover about 1,800 miles.
The RAC told the Express it had been concerned about the removal of the hard shoulder, adding: "It fundamentally increases the risk to drivers who suffer a breakdown and are unable to reach a refuge area. To combat this, the RAC has worked with Highways England to increase the numbers of refuge areas, increase awareness and prominence of these by getting them painted orange, and make sure that the latest technology is used to detect when a vehicle is in trouble.” Refuge areas are supposed to be no more than a mile apart.
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