Drivers will be hit with automatic fines and penalty points if they ignore lane closure signs on Britain’s smart motorways.
The Home Office has approved new powers for police that will allow them to issue £100 fixed penalty notices to drivers caught flouting lane closures or driving illegally on the hard shoulder.
At the moment, gantry-mounted cameras on smart motorways can detect drivers ignoring the red X which signals that a lane is closed to traffic. However, Highways England can only use this information to issue warnings and police have had to catch a driver in the act in order to fine them.
According to the Times, under the new powers that come into effect on June 10 police forces will be given data direct from the cameras, allowing them to issue the £100 fines and three penalty points automatically.
Highways England has issued more than 180,000 warning letters since January 2017 – equivalent to nearly 1,500 every week.
There are 416 miles of smart motorways around the country where there is no hard shoulder or the hard shoulder has been converted into an extra lane for traffic. On these stretches variable speed limits and lane closures are used to manage traffic flow, with red X signs in use on around 300 miles of them.
Overhead gantries transmit information including lowered speed limits or lane closures caused by accidents or breakdowns, but there are fears, backed by the high number of warnings issued, that drivers are ignoring these and having to swerve out of the closed lane at the last minute when they encounter an obstruction.
A recent poll found almost a quarter of drivers had ignored the red X signs while using smart motorways.
AA president Edmund King told the Times: “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: “Red X signs over closed lanes help protect drivers from dangers ahead.
“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.”