It was only in recent years that smart motorway signs appeared - the digital ones that can change what they display depending on what's happening below them. But as they become more and more common, the rules enforcing them are becoming much more strict.

According to the Press Association, after March, drivers who ignore smart motorway lane closures could well be fined after penalties are expected to be introduced in the spring.

Highways England - the government agency responsible for the operation, maintenance and improvement of the motorways in England - says that ignoring the red X signs on overhead gantries is 'dangerous'. Although not yet determined, incidents could be treated like passing through a red traffic light, which carries a fixed penalty of £100 ($135) and three penalty points.

And while it's usually pretty obvious as to what those signs mean, just to avoid confusion - and take away any valid excuses from drivers flaunting the rules - the organisation have issued this handy guide. It's like doing your theory test all over again, isn't it?

Credit: Highways Agency

But it seems that a lot of people actually need the reminder - Highways England has apparently issued around 80,000 warning letters to drivers, all of whom broke smart motorway rules in the past 12 months.

That's over 6,500 infractions every month - and approximately a third of those are relating to driving in closed lanes. Those are the ones with the big red X, just in case you still weren't sure. But to be fair it can be kind of tricky, because smart motorways do involve using the hard shoulder for traffic. Unless there's a giant red X above them, which means they're closed.

The government-owned company wrote in a document seen by the Press Association that road-side cameras which automatically detect lane violations are 'currently being tested by the Home Office' and that they 'expect enforcement of red X offences to commence from spring 2018'.

So far, sections of the M1, M4, M5, M6 and M42 have already been modified, with 480 lane miles being added to England's motorway network with hard shoulders. That extra capacity is 'a welcome move' according to Steve Gooding, director of motorway research charity the RAC Foundation, but 'only so long as it can be delivered safely'.

"The best laws are those that no-one breaks, not just because the penalties for doing so are severe but also because they are well understood and accepted," he said.

He continued: "We need to see a redoubling of communications by Highways England to leave no doubt in motorists' minds as to what a red X sign means.

"It's important that drivers understand that where the carriageway has been blocked by a collision or a breakdown, the price for ignoring the red X could be a lot higher than a fixed penalty notice."

A Highways England spokesman reiterated that point in the following statement: "We close lanes for a reason and drivers ignoring red Xs puts them and others at risk.

"Since we started issuing warning letters we have seen a decrease in the number of drivers ignoring lane closures."

Featured Image Credit: Highways Agency

Mischa Pearlman

Mischa is a freelance journalist usually based in either New York or London. He has written for Kerrang!, Record Collector, NME, the New York Observer and FLOOD magazine, among others. Contact him at [email protected]

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