Half of smart motorway safety cameras can’t enforce ‘red X’ closed-lane signs

Half of smart motorway safety cameras can’t enforce ‘red X’ closed-lane signs
Motorists could be avoiding fines for ignoring lane closure signs on smart motorways as “around half” of the safety cameras on these roads are not yet fully operational, The Times has discovered.

Despite the vital function of the ‘red X’ to close lanes following incidents and breakdowns, Highways England has admitted the camera network will not be fully upgraded until July 2023, meaning police can’t use footage to issue penalties to drivers disobeying the signs.

The news has reignited concerns over the safety of smart motorways where the hard shoulder is converted to a live running lane to improve traffic flow. 

On these stretches, drivers can be left stranded if they break down or suffer an accident too far from a junction or SOS area. In this scenario their safety is dependent on the activation of the red X to close the lane and drivers then obeying the signs by changing lanes.

The hard shoulder has been converted to a running lane on 350 miles of motorway, including large sections of the M1, M6 and M25.

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If drivers ignore lane closure signs, they can face a £100 fine and three penalty points. Under new legislation, police can use existing speed cameras to enforce this, whereas before officers could only punish those caught flouting the red X signs in person. 

However, Highways England’s ‘HADECS 3’ cameras need upgrading to enable automatic enforcement, with the government-owned organisation revealing only “around half” of its cameras are currently able to detect red X violations. 

The planned upgrades include changes to the cameras and software and police processing systems.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said it is “frightening” to think it will be two and a half years until all smart motorway cameras are upgraded.

“With the permanent removal of the hard shoulder on smart motorways, it’s important to realise that the red X ‘closed lane’ sign is the only protection offered to a stricken driver until assistance arrives. Therefore enforcement of the red X is absolutely vital,” he said.

“The safety of someone who has stopped in a live lane initially depends on three things – the red X sign being switched on, other drivers having an opportunity to see it, and then these same drivers moving into another lane. The consequences of the lane not being closed immediately, or of drivers either not seeing or even ignoring the red X can be tragic.

“There has been talk of using speed cameras to enforce the red X for a number of years, yet now we learn that a high proportion of them are not capable of being used for this purpose. It’s frightening to think therefore that it will be nearly two and a half years more until all smart motorway cameras are upgraded.”

Highways England’s disclosure comes after MPs on the cross-party transport committee announced a new inquiry into smart motorways last week, prompted by unrest over a number of fatalities on the roads. 

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