As many as one in 10 drivers are ignoring motorway lane closure warnings, according to England’s highways authority. National Highways has warned drivers that they risk a fine and penalty points for ignoring the red X signs on gantries after revealing new data on the number of drivers caught using closed lanes.
According to the agency, “more than 90%” of drivers comply with the signs, suggesting that almost 10% do not. It has now urged drivers to heed the warnings for their own safety and that of emergency crews who could be working in the lane.
Since September 2022, all police forces in England have been able to use enforcement cameras to prosecute motorists who illegally pass under a red X or enter a lane beyond one. Surrey Police was one of the first to start prosecuting offenders and new figures show it has issued 9,427 Notices of Intended Prosecution since November 2019.
The standard punishment is a fine of up to £100 and three penalty points, although first-time offenders can also opt for a safety awareness course. However, some offenders face more severe penalties and a court appearance. In one case reported by Surrey Police a driver who contested the original FPN was later fined £1,000 by the court.
Red X signs are seen as vital to the safe operation of smart motorways, where they are used to warn following traffic if a vehicle breaks down in a live lane. The new figures come a day after the National Highways chief executive said it was working towards a “challenging” new deadline after it missed several safety targets around stopped vehicles.
National Highways traffic officer Dave Harford said: “A red X signal is there for the safety of everyone on the road – including people in difficulty, traffic officers, recovery and emergency services helping them, and all other road users besides.”
Chief Constable Jo Shiner, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for roads policing, said: “There are too many instances where motorists fail to comply with a red X signal and put others in incredible danger by driving in a closed lane. This is unacceptable and drivers who do so need to understand they face prosecution.”
AA president Edmund King said that with more than a third (38%) of smart motorway breakdowns occurring in a live lane it was “vital” that all drivers avoid lanes with a red X as soon as possible, as you never know what danger may lie ahead.”
RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said that the position of some signs could be partly to blame for drivers ignoring lane closure warnings. He commented : “This is a very worrying statistic. For some time we’ve been concerned that red Xs displayed on signs at the side of the road aren’t nearly as clear as those positioned on gantries directly above each lane. We fear this may be a factor in some of the non-compliance.
“For this reason, it would be helpful to know drivers’ reasons for not obeying red Xs. If it’s the case drivers say they hadn’t seen or understood signs at the side of the road then there may be an argument for installing more expensive gantry signage.”