We’ve talked before on the WrightStart blog about the history of motorways both at home [link to blog] and abroad [link to Chinese blog], but even in the last few years our relationship with these stretches of road has been changing.
For a great example of this, look no further than smart motorways.
These motorways look a lot like the ones you’re used to driving on, but use traffic management methods to ease congestion and make road users safer. These methods include things like turning the hard shoulder into a running lane, and using variable speed limits.
Different types of smart motorway
There are currently three different types of smart motorway: controlled motorways, dynamic hard shoulder running schemes and all lane running schemes.
Controlled motorwayshave three or more lanes with variable speed limits, but the hard shoulder is only for emergencies. The speed limits are displayed on overhead gantry signs; if you can’t see one, you should default to the national speed limit (70mph).
All lane running schemespermanently remove the hard shoulder, turning the space into a running lane for traffic and only closing it if there’s an incident. A red X on the gantry signs indicates a lane closure.
Dynamic hard shoulder running schemesuse the hard shoulder as a running lane, which can help to ease traffic during busy periods. A solid white line differentiates the hard shoulder from the normal road.
What’s the deal with the red X?
So, a red X signals a lane closure. What would happen if you ignored this?
Previously, someone using a closed lane could only be punished if they were caught in person by the police. However, as of June 10th 2019, ignoring a lane closure will land you with a £100 fine and three points on your licence.
This is thanks to some new cameras that have been set up on the motorway gantries by Highways England. They will automatically detect rule-breaking drivers, making it harder for them to get off scot-free.
According to recent RAC research, though 99% of drivers are aware of what the red X signifies, a quarter still choose to ignore them.
The move was praised by the RAC’s head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes, who said that “Giving the police the ability to use cameras to catch drivers flouting the law is a necessary next step – and is something our research tells us a majority of drivers are supportive of.”
“The simple message for drivers is this – as soon as you see a red X sign, move over into an open lane safely.”
Smart motorways haven’t been without controversy since their introduction, with drivers questioning what the permanent removal of some hard shoulders will do for safety, particularly in the event that drivers break down and can’t reach a refuge area.
Whatever your opinion on them, smart motorways are set to become even more visible in the UK, with the amount set to rise from 416 miles to 788 miles by 2025. With that in mind, it’s in everyone’s best interest to stay aware of the signs.