Dangerous drivers could soon find themselves being handed £100 fines for breaking the rules on smart motorways.
Thousands of motorists who ignore red 'X' warning signs – which are linked to lane closures – could find themselves slapped with a penalty fine and three points per breach on their licence.
The punishments are linked to new technology that allows police to use traffic cameras to penalise those who don't abide by temporary changes on motorways such as the M1 and M25.
New rules under the Road Traffic Offenders Order 2019 come into effect on 10 June, however, Highways England has insisted that cameras won't be used to penalise drivers until 'late summer' to allow for testing.
Smart motorways controversially operate without a hard shoulder and at present use red 'X' warnings on overhead gantries to close lanes, which can indicate stranded vehicles on the road ahead.
However, there are concerns that too many drivers – around 8% of those who use them – are ignoring the signs, and therefore risking a major accident, or at the very least swerving hard to dodge stationary vehicles.
A red X sign indicates that a lane is closed to traffic. In most cases it's linked to people working ahead or an incident.
Driving in one is illegal, and in many cases could mean you're obstructing police or ambulance forces from attending an emergency.
Under current rules, Highways England can issue written warnings to drivers who are caught ignoring the signs.
The organisation told Mirror Money that around 180,000 letters have been sent since the start of 2017, although these don't come with penalties.
However, on 13 May, the Home Office approved plans for the use of cameras to automatically detect – and penalise – motorists who break the rules.
It will allow gantry-mounted cameras to issue fixed penalties to motorists who ignore lane closures or illegally drive on the hard shoulders.
Police forces will obtain data directly from cameras, allowing them to give drivers fines of £100 with three penalty points.
Edmund King, president of the AA, said: "Although it has taken far too long, this is a welcome measure to improve safety on motorways."
He said the red X – which is used on 297 miles of Britain's motorways – is put up to warn of an obstruction, so drivers must get out of the lane when they see them.
"We have had several incidents recently where AA members' cars have been hit in a live lane on smart motorways."
Highways England's executive director for safety, Mike Wilson, added: "Our motorways are already among the safest in the world but this move will make them even safer.
"Red X signs over closed lanes help protect drivers from dangers ahead. Most drivers comply with lane closures, but the minority of people who don’t are putting themselves and other road users at real risk. We welcome this auto-enforcement and the increase to driver safety it will bring."
Mirror Online has contacted the Home Office for a comment.
How to drive on a smart motorway
These are the Government's tips on how to stay safe on them:
Never drive in a lane closed by a Red X.
Keep to the speed limits shown on the gantries or signs.
A hard shoulder is always identified by a solid white unbroken line – if there’s no speed limit displayed above it or a Red X is displayed, do not use it except in emergency.
A broken white line indicates a normal running lane.
If the hard shoulder is being used as an extra lane, use the designated emergency areas for emergencies.
If your vehicle experiences difficulties, eg warning light, exit the motorway immediately, if you can.
If you break down, put your hazard lights on.
Most breakdowns are preventable – keep your car well maintained, check your tyres and make sure you have enough fuel for your journey.
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