Almost a quarter of motorists break the law by ignoring smart motorway red X signs

A red X sign on smart motorways tells motorists to move out of the lane because it’s closed due to a hazard ahead – but almost a quarter admit they’ve ignored the instruction when they’ve seen it, according to the RAC.

Some 23 per cent of drivers surveyed held their hands up to staying in a lane with a red X on the gantry above, despite 99 per cent knowing it tells them to move over because of an incident further up the road.

Motorists are putting themselves and other road users – including vehicle recovery providers and workmen – at ‘tremendous risk’ the research indicates.

The motoring organisation argues that more action is needed to achieve 100 per cent compliance with smart motorway rules.

Driving in a closed smart motorway lane has been an offence since March 2018, however, Highways England is still waiting for Home Office approval to enforce non-compliance with red X signs

While the overall percentage of drivers failing to leave a closed lane might appear relatively low but it’s concerning that almost all should know better.   

The research found there’s virtually no lack of understanding as to what a red X sign means, with 99 per cent of those surveyed saying the instruction was clear and 84 per cent had seen a red X sign in the last year. 

What to do if you break down on a smart motorway… 

If you are unlucky enough to break down or be involved in an accident while on a smart motorway, you should follow these instructions from the RAC:

Use an emergency refuge area (ERA) if you are able to reach one safely. These are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol on them. Different types of smart motorways have different ERA spacing, but the furthest you will be away from one is around 1.5 miles.If you cannot get to an emergency refuge area, you should try to move on to the verge if there is no safety barrier and it is safe to do so.In all cases, switch on your hazard warning lights.If you stop in the nearside lane, leave your vehicle via the nearside (left hand) door if it is safe to do so and wait behind the safety barrier, if there is one. If you are unable to move over to the nearside lane, remain in the vehicle with your seat belt on.If you can leave your vehicle safely, contact Highways England via the roadside emergency telephone provided in all emergency refuge areas. If it is not possible to get out of your vehicle safely, then you should stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on and dial ‘999’ if you have access to a working mobile phone.


When asked how they reacted to the instruction, 87 per cent said they move into another lane when it is safe to do so, while the other 13 per cent admitted they may go past one or two of the signs before driving into an open lane.

These same drivers were also quick to blast other motorists for not complying with the closed lane sign. 

Almost half of those quizzed – 48 per cent – said they frequently see other drivers ignoring red X signs, while more than a third claimed to witness it occasionally. Just seven per cent said they never see it at all.

And despite almost all motorists being full aware of what a red X sign is telling them to do, a third said they opposed the idea that cameras on smart motorways could be used to enforce the rules.  

Simon Williams, RAC spokesman said the red X signs are paramount for safety but motorists were still willingly ignoring them.

‘Smart motorways are now very much part of the fabric of England’s motorway network and will become even more commonplace in years to come with more being opened all the time,’ he said.

‘Our research found drivers understand very clearly what red Xs mean, yet worryingly far too many appear to have driven under one, dramatically putting themselves at risk of encountering a stationary vehicle or a worker in their path, and all the horrific consequences that could have.’

Highways England has recently launched a new radio campaign warning about the dangerous of ignoring red X instructions and other smart motorways rules, but the RAC said more was needed to achieve total compliance, including legislation that allows Highways England to enforce the law. 

‘Highways England has been working hard to get the message across to drivers that they should not drive in lanes closed by red Xs, but there is still some way to go to ensure near total compliance,’ added Williams.

‘Regarding enforcement, we know Highways England is working with the Home Office to get the required legislation to allow cameras to catch those who break the rules of smart motorway driving in this way.’