Up to a fifth of motorists driving in closed smart motorways lanes

Study commissioned by motorway operator Highways England finds up to 20 per cent of motorists driving in closed ‘red X’ lanes

Up to a fifth of motorists are ignoring ‘red X’ signs on smart motorways, driving in closed lanes and risking potential collisions with stranded vehicles. 

A new study commissioned by Highways England – the government-owned company responsible for running the UK’s motorway and major trunk road network – found up to 20 per cent of smart motorway users are driving in closed lanes.

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The analysis was carried out by engineering firm Atkins, who analysed the M25 between junctions 5 and 7, and 23 and 27 between May 2014 and April 2017. The firm found that while collision rates had actually improved since the hard shoulder was removed, up to 14 motorists a minute illegally drove in closed lanes. Overall average rates of red X offences increased by 4 per cent to 6 per cent on the northern section of the M25.

The Home Office is in the process of certifying ANPR cameras to detect and issue penalties to motorists driving in a closed lane of a smart motorway. This certification has yet to occur, though, leaving Highways England to send out roughly 100,000 warning letters to drivers spotted in closed lanes by gantry cameras. 

Around 250 miles of motorway have been converted to all-lane running ‘smart’ motorways, which were introduced to improve traffic flow without having to physically expand motorways at vast expense.

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Smart motorways turn the hard shoulder into an active lane, with gantry signs displaying a red X indicating if a lane is closed. This is usually done when a vehicle has broken down or been involved in a collision in an active lane, while ‘refuge areas’ laybys are also provided roughly once a mile for drivers in distress.

While research indicates smart motorways are no less safe than standard motorways, statistics are out of step with public feeling, leading Highways England to expand the number of refuge areas, and also begin painting them orange.

What do you think about the growth of smart motorway technology in the UK? Let us know in the comments…

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