National Highways and emergency services issue Red X warning

Drivers are being reminded that enforcement cameras can now be used to automatically detect vehicles passing illegally under a Red X or entering the lane beyond a Red X, which can result in a fixed penalty of up to £100 and three points or, in some cases, more severe penalties or a court appearance. 

The Red X is used to close lanes when an obstruction such as a broken-down vehicle is detected in the road ahead. Abiding by the signal is vital to avoid a potentially serious collision.

National Highways says more than 90 per cent of drivers comply with the Red X, although thousands have been prosecuted for not doing so.

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.

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.”

Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) Managing Director, Martin Flaherty OBE, added:  “It is important to remember that 999 ambulances on blue lights may be trying to reach critically ill patients on motorway lanes where Red X signals are in force, for example, after a serious road traffic collision. If those lanes are blocked by drivers who should not be there, ambulance crews could be delayed in reaching patients who urgently need our life saving skills.  We want drivers to understand that a lane closed by a Red X is for the safety of all – and especially to help protect the scene of an accident and those emergency and essential services who may be on the carriageway to deal with the aftermath.” 

Dan Quin, Road Lead – Transportation at National Fire Chiefs Council, said: “Red X signals are there to indicate when a lane is closed. When used in the event of emergencies, they provide invaluable access to the scene of an incident, preventing time lost in negotiating the build-up of traffic. Red X signals also provide safety for workers while on the road, including emergency services and the public, by reducing the risk of further collisions. Ignoring Red X signals is dangerous, it is an offence and all road users have a role to play in complying with them.”

It has been an offence for more than two decades to drive in a lane closed by a Red X.

In June 2019 there was a change in legislation which meant cameras can automatically detect vehicles that ignore a Red X and as of September last year (2022) all police forces have been able to enforce the cameras.

National Highways Traffic Officer, Dave Harford, explained: “We don’t take the decision to close lanes lightly, but when we do, drivers must obey the closure. A Red X signal is there for the safety of everyone on the road – including 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.”

Antony Kildare, CEO IAM RoadSmart, added: “It’s quite simple, a Red X means trouble ahead and has exactly the same legal force as a red traffic light. With new technology the police can take action and you can be fined and have points placed on your licence. It’s just not worth the risk to gain a few places in the queue.”

National Highways says Red X signals are one of a raft of measures to help keep people safe if they break down on motorways.  As well as the Red X signals, reduced speed limits are used.

Its advice for drivers who get into trouble on a motorway is “go left”.

It says: “If your vehicle has a problem, or you 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:

• Put your left indicators on.
• Move into the left lane.
• Enter the next emergency area, or hard shoulder.
• Put your hazard lights on.
• Get behind a safety barrier where there is one – keep well away from moving traffic.
• Call National Highways on 0300 123 5000 then a breakdown provider for help.

“If you are unable to exit your vehicle and get to a safe place, have stopped in a live traffic lane or feel your life is in danger:

• stay in your vehicle with your seatbelts and hazard lights on
• call 999 immediately or press the SOS button in your car.”

Advice about what to do in a breakdown here

More information about Red X signals here

Highway Code rules regarding motorway signals including the Red X here

Advice on eCall SOS here

(Picture – National Highways)


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