May 30, 2019

Smart Motorways – New Automatic Fixed Penalties

Obey the Red X or Get a £100 Fine

If you’re driving somewhere on the currently 400 miles of smart motorways (200 miles in each direction) and you see a red X on the overhead gantry, that’s telling you that the lane you’re on is closed and you must move to an adjacent lane as soon as it’s safe to do so. If you don’t comply, the cameras will record your number plate and you’ll get a £100 fine and notice of 3 penalty points on your licence through the post a few days later.

This is a new law which comes into operation from 10th June 2019, although Highways England say that actual fining won’t be happening until late summer to allow for testing the system.

These new powers have been introduced to try to combat the high level of non-compliance drivers are showing when faced with a red X lane closure sign.

Thousands of non-compliant drivers

We reported on the new breed of motorways at the beginning of the year, and also posted about the financial perils of speeding on the smart motorway system, but further issues have recently been highlighted.

Up to now, drivers ignoring the lane closure signs have simply been sent warning letters – a staggering 180,000 letters have been sent out since 2017. That’s nearly 1,500 drivers potentially driving dangerously per week by ignoring the lane closure signals. Hence, the Home Office approval to use the smart motorway data collection system to fine these drivers.

Why red X’s?

When smart motorways were introduced on some of the busiest roads in the country – the M1, M4, M6, M25 and M62 – the decision was taken to repurpose the hard shoulder safety lane and use it to increase traffic capacity, making a fourth lane, in other words. If a speed limit is displayed on the gantry above what was the hard shoulder, then it’s being used as a lane. Instead, lay-bys are placed about 1.5 miles apart for drivers to pull in to in an emergency.

That’s great if your emergency happens near a lay-by but, if your vehicle fails somewhere between convenient pull-ins and you can’t safely coast to the left lane, what do you do? The answer is that you sit in the lane you were driving in and other drivers funnel around you until help arrives.

Once the blockage that you’re causing is picked up by the system, a red X will show on the gantries leading up to your position, thus telling other drivers that there’s a problem and instructing them to move to an adjacent lane. Ignoring these instructions lead to drivers swerving round obstructions at the last minute, risking crashing into the stationary vehicle or into those driving in adjacent lanes.

If, however, there’s a red X over the leftmost lane, then you can also use that in an emergency.


Don’t worry if you pass under a gantry just as the red X flashes up over your lane. A tolerance is going to be built into the data collection system to recognise that you couldn’t reasonably comply before going under the gantry. Do change lanes as soon as is safe though.

Highways England’s executive director for safety. Mike Wilson, 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.”

Double the length

Plans are in hand to double the smart motorways network length to over 750 miles by 2025. These new motorways will include pull-ins which are only one mile apart in an effort to improve safety. However, this may not make much improvement in accident figures unless drivers pay more attention to the overhead signage and comply with it.

Drive safely on smart motorways

Highways England have drawn up some guidelines for safe driving on smart motorways. You can read it here.

Highways England guide to red X on Smart Motorways