Drivers to be fined for ignoring lane closures

New powers that allow police to use traffic cameras to penalise motorists who fail to abide by lane closures on the new generation of smart motorways could see thousands of drivers hit with automatic fines of £100, along with penalty points.

May 16, 2019
By Tony Thompson

Smart motorways operate without a hard shoulder to increase capacity, using red “X” warnings on overhead gantries to close lanes in the event of a stranded vehicle blocking the road ahead.

Under the current system Highways England issues written warnings to drivers pictured ignoring the red X. More than 180,000 letters have been sent since the start of 2017 — almost 1,500 a week — underlining the scale of non-compliance.

There are fears that with so many drivers ignoring the signs, they may end up swerving around breakdowns and accidents at the last moment, raising the risk of a collision with other motorists.

As a result, the Home Office has approved the use of cameras to fine motorists for the first time, passing legislation last week to allow police to use gantry-mounted cameras to issue fixed penalties to motorists who ignore lane closures or illegally drive on the hard shoulder.

Powers under the Road Traffic Offenders Order 2019 will be introduced from June 10, although Highways England insisted that cameras would not be used to penalise drivers until “late summer”, to allow for testing.

Individual police forces will obtain data directly from cameras, allowing them to issue fines of £100 with three penalty points. Previously, drivers could only be fined if they were seen breaking rules by traffic officers.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “Although it has taken far too long, this is a welcome measure to improve safety on motorways. The red X is put up to warn of an obstruction, so drivers must get out of the lane when they see them. We have had several incidents recently where AA members’ cars have been hit in a live lane on smart motorways.”

Mike Wilson, Highways England’s executive director for safety, said: “Most drivers comply with lane closures, but the minority of people who don’t are putting themselves and other road users at real risk. We welcome this auto-enforcement and the increase to driver safety it will bring.”

The change comes amid concerns over safety on smart motorways where lay-bys are positioned up to 1.5 miles apart for drivers to pull off the road. In particular, traffic officers have expressed concern about their ability to pursue and stop suspects on such roads.

The smart motorway network covers 416 miles of motorway. According to Highways England, red X signs are currently used on 297 miles of the system. The agency recently announced plans to double the length of the network to 788 miles by 2025.

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