Smart motorways seem to be the road safety nightmare that just keeps on giving.
It how now been admitted that motorists could be avoiding fines for ignoring lane closure signs on smart motorways.
A Freedom of Information request by The Times found “around half” of the safety cameras on these roads are not yet fully operational.

Highways England has admitted the camera network will not be fully upgraded until July 2023. This means that police can’t use footage to issue penalties to drivers disobeying the red X signs.

Red means danger

The news has reignited concerns over the safety of smart motorways. They convert the hard shoulder into a live running lane.

Drivers can find themselves stranded if they break down or suffer an accident too far from a junction or SOS area. In this scenario their safety is dependent on the activation of the red X to close the lane. Drivers then need to obey the signs by changing lanes. Without the deterrent of being caught by traffic cameras and prosecuted, some drivers are all too willing to risk staying in the lane when traffic is heavy. The dangers of running into a stranded vehicle are very real and an issue highlighted in recent Coroners Courts.

So far more than 350 miles of hard shoulder have been converted to a running lane, including large sections of the M1, M6 and M25.

A fine mess

Legally, if drivers ignore lane closure signs, they can face a £100 fine and three penalty points. Under new legislation, police can now use existing speed cameras to enforce this instead of having to be their in person to catch offenders.

But with Highways England’s ‘HADECS 3’ cameras needing upgrading to enable automatic enforcement, the government-owned organisation admits only “around half” of its cameras are currently able to detect red X violations.

The planned upgrades include changes to the cameras and software and police processing systems.

Chop and change

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said it is “frightening” to think it will be another two and a half years until the upgrade is completed.

“With the permanent removal of the hard shoulder on smart motorways, it’s important to realise that the red X ‘closed lane’ sign is the only protection offered to a stricken driver until assistance arrives. Therefore enforcement of the red X is absolutely vital,” he said.

“The safety of someone who has stopped in a live lane initially depends on three things – the red X sign being switched on, other drivers having an opportunity to see it, and then these same drivers moving into another lane. The consequences of the lane not being closed immediately, or of drivers either not seeing or even ignoring the red X can be tragic.

“There has been talk of using speed cameras to enforce the red X for a number of years, yet now we learn that a high proportion of them are not capable of being used for this purpose. It’s frightening to think therefore that it will be nearly two and a half years more until all smart motorway cameras are upgraded.”

MPs on the cross-party transport committee announced a new inquiry into smart motorways last week. This was prompted by unrest over a number of fatalities on the roads in recent years. Road safety exerts, the police, coroners and the public have all called for the suspension of new smart motorways.