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The red X sign is used to close lanes when an obstruction such as a broken-down vehicle is detected on the road ahead. Abiding by the sign is vital for drivers to avoid a potentially serious collision and alert those behind that an incident has occurred ahead.
In June 2019, there was a change in legislation which meant cameras can automatically detect vehicles that ignore a red X.
As of September 2022, all police forces have been able to enforce the cameras.
The cameras can be used to automatically detect vehicles passing illegally under a red X or entering the lane beyond a red X.
This can result in a fixed penalty of up to £100 and three points or, in some cases, more severe penalties or a court appearance.
It has been an offence to drive in a lane closed by a red X for more than 20 years.
Chief Constable Jo Shiner, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Roads Policing, said: “Red X signals are in place on the motorway for your safety and the safety of others.
“Sadly, there are too many instances where motorists fail to comply with a red X signal and put others in incredible danger by driving in a closed lane.
“This is unacceptable and drivers who do so need to understand they face prosecution.”
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The majority of drivers – more than 90 percent – comply with the red X, although thousands have been prosecuted for not doing so, according to National Highways.
Surrey Police was one of the first forces to begin enforcing camera detected red X offences in November 2019.
Since then, there have been 9,427 first Notices of Intended Prosecution sent out by the force.
Of these, over half – 4,926 – have so far completed a safety awareness course, while others selected alternative disposal options such as paying a fixed penalty or having the matter heard at court.
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National Highways says that if someone’s vehicle has a problem, or they get into trouble on a motorway, stay calm and try to exit at the next junction or motorway service area.
If that’s not possible, they should put their left indicators on, move into the left lane, enter the next emergency area, or hard shoulder, put their hazard lights on, get behind a safety barrier where there is one and keep well away from moving traffic.
If a driver is unable to exit their vehicle and get to a safe space, have stopped in a live traffic lane or feel like their life is in danger, National Highways says they should stay in their vehicle.
They should keep their seatbelts on, turn their hazards on and call 999 immediately or press the SOS button in their car.
Speaking about the number of fines that had been handed out, Simon Williams, RAC road safety spokesperson, said it was a “very worrying statistic”.
He added: “For some time we’ve been concerned that red Xs displayed on signs at the side of the road aren’t nearly as clear as those positioned on gantries directly above each lane.
“We fear this may be a factor in some of the non-compliance. For this reason, it would be helpful to know drivers’ reasons for not obeying red Xs.
“If it’s the case drivers say they hadn’t seen or understood signs at the side of the road then there may be an argument for installing more expensive gantry signage. It’s critical drivers obey the red X as it’s often the first line of defence for anyone stranded in a live lane of smart motorway traffic.”
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