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17-06-2019

Drivers will be slapped with a £100 fine if they ignore smart motorway signs from next week – as police will be given more power

DRIVERS who ignore warnings on smart motorways will be fined £100 and issued with three penalty points from next week.

The fast roads, which have no hard shoulders, use electronic “X” warnings on gantries to close lanes.

 Drivers will be fined for ignoring smart motorway closed lanes
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Drivers will be fined for ignoring smart motorway closed lanesCredit: Highways England

Brits who drive in lanes showing a red "X" could find themselves charged with careless driving - or worse, cause a potentially catastrophic accident.

New Home Office legislation comes into force on Monday (June 10), allowing Highways England to use cameras to automatically issue Fixed Penalty Notices to drivers ignoring the red "X" signs.

Current laws mean drivers can only be fined if they are spotted by police driving in closed lanes.

But under the Road Traffic Offenders Order 2019, police will be able to access cameras and issue fines to careless motorists.

How to safely drive on a smart motorway

Highways England gives the following advice when driving on a smart motorway:

  • Never drive under a red “X”
  • Keep to the speed limit shown on the gantries
  • A solid white line indicates the hard shoulder – don’t drive in it unless directed
  • A broken white line indicates a normal running lane
  • Use the refuge areas for emergencies if there’s no hard shoulder
  • Put your hazard lights on if you break down
 Lanes show a red 'X' on overhead gantries when they are closed to traffic
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Lanes show a red 'X' on overhead gantries when they are closed to trafficCredit: Highways England

Highways England has used cameras to dish out written warnings to motorists driving in closed lanes, with more than 180,000 letters sent since the start of 2017.

But drivers will no longer get a warning, but instead be given a fine and three penalty points.

Smart motorways use live monitoring systems to manage the flow of cars and vary speed limits to suit traffic conditions.

This often means opening up the hard shoulder for use as another lane to ease congestion - but drivers need to check overhead gantries for live signage.

Drivers are able to use the hard shoulder as a lane when a speed sign is displayed above it.

But if a red "X" is displayed, or the digital sign is blank, then the hard shoulder should not be used for traffic.

Road users may also be instructed to move out of lane one if there is an accident ahead, with an arrow shown above the hard shoulder

Motorists caught driving in closed lanes risk a hefty penalty if their actions cause an accident.

The most serious cases are dealt with in court, where drivers can be charged with careless driving and slapped with a maximum £5,000 fine, nine penalty points and even a road ban.

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Credit: Highways England
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Credit: Highways England
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Credit: Highways England

Earlier this year, a study revealed some 60 per cent of Brits aren't sure what to do when driving in the hard shoulder. 

Around a third didn't know that the red "X" sign on the overhead gantries meant the lane was closed, and some 23 per cent admitted having driven under the lane closure signs.

Drivers also thought it was appropriate to stop on the hard shoulder if they broke down, with only half knowing the correct thing to do is pull into the nearest emergency refuge area and leave the hard shoulder free for traffic.

Neil Greig, Policy and Research Director at IAM RoadSmart said: “Smart motorways only work if all drivers understand what they do and act on the special signs and speed limits that they show.

"A red 'X' has the same meaning as a red stop light on a standard traffic light and needs to be treated like that.

"There is no leeway to allow you to ‘nip up’ the empty lane just to check what’s happening – red 'X' means get out of the lane now."

Rod Dennis, RAC spokesperson, said: “Despite the critical role red 'X' signs play in keeping motorway users safe, our research shows far too many drivers are disobeying them and in turn risking lives.

"Twenty-three per cent admitted to ignoring red 'X' signs, despite practically all drivers being clear that the sign means the lane is closed, while nearly half said they frequently see other drivers disobeying them.

“A lot of work has been done to educate drivers about the role red 'X' signs increasingly plays on our motorway network, but clearly more needs to be done and enforcement seems the obvious next step.

"A majority of drivers told us that they were in favour of cameras being used by the police to catch offenders, something which we very much hope will make our motorways safer.”

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