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25 percent of drivers drive through smart motorway red ‘X’ signs

Rex X smart motorways

New RAC statistics show that 25 percent of members have driven under red ‘X’ signs on smart motorways – and the figures for the rest of us could be even worse. This comes from a survey of 2,093 members of the RAC Opinion Panel.

If you didn’t know, that red ‘X’ is there to tell you that the lane is closed due to an obstruction in the road. Yes, that could be a dead car, lorry, a person, or anything, really. You should not drive in the lane.

Fortunately, one in four of us aren’t heinous criminals with a disregard for our own or the lives of others. As many as 19 percent of the 25 percent figure is made up of those who have done so accidentally on a rare occasion. Just one percent of people do it by accident regularly and three percent of us are those dissenting rebels that disregard the motorway signage deliberately, albeit only on occasion.

Ignorance is no excuse either, given that 99 percent of those who said they have driven through it, know exactly what it means.

Non-RAC member figures could be even worse…

Worryingly, as many as 48 percent of respondents said that they regularly see people driving in closed-off lanes. Though from the point of view of the observer, you can’t tell whether it’s unawareness or blatant disregard. As many as 36 percent of people said they see it occasionally, while just seven percent say they do not see drivers disregarding the red ‘X’.

Could the RAC figures be lower compared to the population at large? If so many are seeing other drivers doing it, perhaps the figure only reflects well on RAC members by comparison to the rest of us…

Rex X smart motorways

“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,” said RAC spokesperson Simon Williams.

“It is also extremely dangerous if road workers or emergency service staff are attending to [an] 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’.

“Our research found drivers understand very clearly what red Xs mean, yet worryingly far too many appear to have driven under one, dramatically putting themselves at risk of encountering a stationary vehicle or a worker in their path, and all the horrific consequences that could have.”

How do we stop it?

“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.”

Motorway at night

Opinion: Motorways are smart. Pity drivers aren’t

Motorway at nightAs a regular user of the M6 and M1, it happens almost every time I drive on them: someone cruises up the hard shoulder and drives past me.

Quite apart from the obvious rules-flouting undertake, this is also illegal because, well, it’s the hard shoulder, not a live running lane. So why do they do it?

Because it’s a smart motorway section and they clearly think it’s within their right. Indeed, the undertake is probably a badge of honour because I’m in the wrong and they’re teaching me a lesson. (Such is the logic of many road rage-infused motorists.)

Only I’m not. And they’re not so smart. Because although it’s a smart motorway, the ‘smart’ hard shoulder bit isn’t actually live. The overhead gantries, shorn of illuminated speed limit indicators, confirm this.

And if they then do come across someone stopped on the side of the motorway, poking about under their bonnet or struggling to change a wheel – well, it doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?

This is the conundrum of smart motorways: they’re an excellent idea, and the stepchange in available road space really does help manage congestion. I’m all in favour of them – but people need to be taught how to use them, and this is where the Department for Transport has failed.

Because now, it’s almost an assumption that if a motorway is smart, the hard shoulder can be used all the time. And, sooner or later, I fear this is going to cause a big accident. If, indeed, it hasn’t already.

The simple solution is obvious: if the lane is closed, permanently display a big red ‘X’ in that lane. This would make it blindingly obvious to all road users. Oh, and maybe set the speed cameras to capture motorists who drive past a red ‘X’ (or at least tell people that’s what you’re planning to do).

Motorists are still getting used to smart motorways, and an apparent lack of information means many just don’t understand it. So, DfT, until you get your education campaign fully into gear, turn on the crosses. It may just save lives.

Motorway at night

Opinion: Motorways are smart. Pity drivers aren't

Motorway at nightAs a regular user of the M6 and M1, it happens almost every time I drive on them: someone cruises up the hard shoulder and drives past me.

Quite apart from the obvious rules-flouting undertake, this is also illegal because, well, it’s the hard shoulder, not a live running lane. So why do they do it?

Because it’s a smart motorway section and they clearly think it’s within their right. Indeed, the undertake is probably a badge of honour because I’m in the wrong and they’re teaching me a lesson. (Such is the logic of many road rage-infused motorists.)

Only I’m not. And they’re not so smart. Because although it’s a smart motorway, the ‘smart’ hard shoulder bit isn’t actually live. The overhead gantries, shorn of illuminated speed limit indicators, confirm this.

And if they then do come across someone stopped on the side of the motorway, poking about under their bonnet or struggling to change a wheel – well, it doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?

This is the conundrum of smart motorways: they’re an excellent idea, and the stepchange in available road space really does help manage congestion. I’m all in favour of them – but people need to be taught how to use them, and this is where the Department for Transport has failed.

Because now, it’s almost an assumption that if a motorway is smart, the hard shoulder can be used all the time. And, sooner or later, I fear this is going to cause a big accident. If, indeed, it hasn’t already.

The simple solution is obvious: if the lane is closed, permanently display a big red ‘X’ in that lane. This would make it blindingly obvious to all road users. Oh, and maybe set the speed cameras to capture motorists who drive past a red ‘X’ (or at least tell people that’s what you’re planning to do).

Motorists are still getting used to smart motorways, and an apparent lack of information means many just don’t understand it. So, DfT, until you get your education campaign fully into gear, turn on the crosses. It may just save lives.