Exclusive: almost 18,000 major offences committed on UK motorways since 2016

Auto Express investigation shows extent of drivers and pedestrians breaking the law on motorways, with illegal stops accounting for more than a third of all offences


Drivers are putting lives at risk by committing thousands of dangerous motorway manoeuvres every year, Auto Express can reveal. Our investigation surveyed 28 police forces and found officers had issued at least 17,775 tickets over the past five and half years, catching people making U-turns on motorways, driving the wrong way on slip roads, stopping in live lanes and driving on hard shoulders.

What we did

Motorways are subject to specific traffic laws set out by The Motorways Traffic (England and Wales) Regulations 1982. These make it illegal, for instance, to walk on a motorway, and govern where drivers are allowed to enter the roads, and how they must behave once they are on them. These laws are the reason you see signs saying ‘end of motorway regulations’ when you pull into a motorway services area, for example.

  • How to drive on a motorway

We asked the 43 police forces in England and Wales how many motorway-specific traffic offences their officers had issued tickets for between the start of 2016 and May 2021, and received data from 28 forces. Some constabularies weren’t able to furnish us with information because either their systems weren’t set up to allow for this kind of interrogation, or because they have no motorways in the areas that they police.

Nonetheless, our investigation is the most comprehensive of its kind, and paints a clear picture of the sorts of driver behaviour police deal with on motorways on a daily basis.

What we found

There are a number of motorway-specific offences covered by the 1982 regulations, and police make regular use of them.

The most common offence is making an unnecessary stop on a hard shoulder or emergency refuge area; officers issued 6,821 tickets for this between 2016 and mid 2021. Next, 2,645 fines were issued to those driving on hard shoulders or refuge areas, while 837 people were caught driving or stopping on verges or central reservations.

Some forces, including Essex and Avon and Somerset told us of thousands of ‘Red X’ offences committed by drivers travelling in closed motorway lanes, something for which tickets started to be issued in 2019 to reflect how smart motorways work. We’ve included these figures in our totals, although not all forces shared this data, so direct comparisons cannot be made between individual years.

Less common infractions were arguably more worrying than more prevalent ones. A total of 165 people were caught driving the wrong way on a motorway from 2016 to 2021, while 204 received tickets for driving the wrong way on slip roads, and 82 were ticketed for making U-turns on motorways.

And while learner drivers have been allowed on motorways with an approved driving instructor in a dual-control car since 2018, 514 learners were ticketed for either breaching these rules, or because they were on a motorway prior to 2018. It’s not just people in vehicles police have to worry about, either: 469 pedestrians were caught on motorways, and three penalties were issued by one force to drivers not controlling animals in cars on motorways.

Most of these offences result in three penalty points and a £100 fine, but illegal stops on hard shoulders and refuge areas carry a non-endorsable, £30 penalty. Despite these numbers, and the fact police can only spot a proportion of offences, the UK’s 2,300 miles of motorway are statistically the safest stretches of road in the country.

What do you think of our exclusive investigation? Let us know in the comments section…

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