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One in four drivers still using ‘red X’ lanes

Drivers are still not getting the message on how to use smart motorways safely, with nearly one in four (23%) flouting ‘red X’ lane closure warnings, according to RAC research.

First phase of a new stretch of smart motorway opened between junction 16 and 19 on the M1

99% of drivers surveyed knew that a ‘red X’ means a lane is closed

Carried out among more than 2,000 RAC members who had driven on a motorway in the last year, the survey found that 19% admitted to occasionally accidentally disregarding an red X sign, with 3% saying they’d done it occasionally on purpose and 1% often accidentally.

This is despite the fact that 99% knew the sign signifies the lane is closed.

For 87% their first action is to move, when safe to do so, into another lane which is not closed while the remainder (13%) say they change lanes as soon as they possibly can but admit they might pass one or two red X signs before doing so.

The research also revealed that nearly half (48%) of drivers say they frequently see other drivers ignoring the sign and more than a third (36%) claim to see it occasionally. Only 7% said they do not see drivers ignoring red X signs.

The survey is backed up by Highways England’s own figures that show it’s issued more than 160,000 warning letters to drivers who had either used sections of hard shoulder when not designated as a running lane or had failed to comply with a red X; part of its work since 2016 to improve compliance with red X signs.

Work is also underway to ensure automatic enforcements of the signs; in 2017 the Government amended the Road Traffic Offenders Act to enable red X offences to be captured by a remote or automated device, but legislation still has to be completed before the technology can be used in enforcement.

RAC spokesperson Simon Williams said: “Red X signs, which denote when lanes are closed, are paramount in safety terms as any stricken driver who has not managed to reach an SOS area is at tremendous risk of being involved in a collision with vehicles that ignore them.

“It is also extremely dangerous if road workers or emergency service staff are attending to incident in the road. Highway Code rule 258 is explicit: ‘if red lights on the overhead signals flash above your lane and a red X is showing, you must not go beyond the signal in that lane’.”

He added: “Regarding enforcement, we know Highways England is working with the Home Office to get the required legislation to allow cameras to catch those who break the rules of smart motorway driving in this way.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.