Drivers to get spot fines for driving in closed motorway lanes

Cars use the M3 "smart" motorway near Longcross,  Surrey after it opened today. The 13.4-mile stretch between Farnborough and the M25 is now a four-lane carriageway after the main construction work was completed. Motorists have faced years of delays and disruption since work began in late 2014. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday July 3, 2017.

Highways England is set to clamp down on drivers misusing so-called 'smart motorways', by issuing fines and penalty points to those who ignore overhead gantries.

You've probably seen smart motorways before, where the hard shoulder can run as a live lane during busy times to ease congestion. However, it's sometimes still necessary to close the hard shoulder to traffic, in the event of an accident for example.

Closed lanes are marked by large red X symbols in overhead gantries, but it seems plenty of motorists choose to ignore these warning symbols. Highways England has sent over 50,000 warning letters to drivers in recent years, a third of whom refused to abide by lane closures.

To combat this, officials are set to introduce a series of £100 fines and licence penalty points to drivers who flout the rules on smart motorways.

Motoring organisations have welcomed the news. A spokesperson for the RAC said: "Driving on a smart motorway lane that has been closed by a red 'X' sign is extremely dangerous. Those ignoring them are a danger to themselves and others.

"It is right that offenders are punished with a substantial fine. The sooner the message gets through to motorists, the safer it will become for every motorway user."

The Department for Transport will reveal full details of the fines and penalty points involved soon, before their introduction in early 2018.

Highways England will also outline plans to increase the number of refuge areas on these smart motorways, after research by the AA found the space between them made motorists nervous. The emergency lay-bys are 1.5 miles apart, but the AA found a third of motorists were only prepared to drive up to a quarter of a mile in search of a refuge, before giving up and stopping in a live lane.

A stopped car on a motorway with no hard shoulder poses a serious safety risk. Edmund King, president of the AA, said: "Drivers are still nervous about using all lane running schemes under their current design... increasing the number of refuge areas would help ease the concerns of drivers and provide confidence of safety should the worst happen."

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