Ambulance chiefs call on drivers to adhere to red ‘X’ signs on smart motorways.

National Highways and the ambulance service have joined forces. They are raising awareness of the importance of complying with smart motorway signs.

When running under blue lights, ambulances need to get to their patients as quickly as possible. Encountering motorists who obstruct their route can mean delaying them when time is so crucial. This can mean the difference between life and death or serious on going issues for the injured.

Red means danger

By using red ‘X’ signals, National Highways can close lanes. This allows ambulance crews and other emergency services to have a clear route to an incident.

Traffic officers can also close lanes to provide ambulance crews with a safe working environment.

Martin Flaherty, managing director at the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) says he wants “drivers to understand that the red ‘X’ lane is closed for the safety of all”.  But in particular it about “critically ill patients”. To help them, red ‘X’ lanes are there “to protect the scene of an accident and those emergency and essential services who may be on the carriageway to deal with the aftermath.”

Space and time

National Highways’ road safety team leader, Jamie Hassall, says that ambulance crews need space to work safely.

“Although it may not be immediately obvious why a lane is closed, we will have done so for a good reason so it’s important for drivers to respect the ‘X’ and move out of the closed lane,” he said.

“A red ‘X’ signal is there for the safety of everyone on the road – people in difficulty, traffic officers, recovery and emergency services helping them, and all other road users besides.

“Thankfully, the vast majority of drivers do comply with the signals but those who don’t put themselves and others at risk.”

Live legal enforcement

In June 2019, there was a change in legislation. Now, cameras can automatically detect vehicles that ignore a red ‘X’ so the police can take enforcement action.

It has been an offence for more than two decades to drive in a lane closed by a red ‘X’. It can result in a fixed penalty of up to £100 and three points. In extreme cases, more severe penalties and even a court appearance can be invoked.

From April 2021, National Highways has been accelerating the completion of its camera upgrade programme regarding the automatic detection of red ‘X’ offences. By the end of September this year it will have upgraded all cameras. They will automatically detect vehicles passing illegally under a red ‘X’ or entering the lane beyond a red ‘X’. This will be 10 months earlier than previously planned.

Learning lessons

National Highways is reminding drivers about the importance of abiding by the red ‘X’. Alongside the campaign, it has also launched a new Driving on Motorways hub. This provides information about the main features of smart motorways. There is plenty of advice and guidance on safer driving and what to do in an emergency.