Highway Code changes lay down the law on new motorway rules

Highway Code changes lay down the law on new motorway rules
Highway Code changes lay down the law on new motorway rules

The Highway Code has been updated to reflect new laws around lane closures on Britain’s major roads.

The Code is the official guide to the rules of the road and informs drivers of their legal obligations as well as best practice for day-to-day driving.

The new updates have been made to reflect changes to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (2016) legislation, which sets out the appearance and purpose of the country’s road signs.

Smart motorways

The latest changes have been made to inform drivers about how they should respond to the red X symbol, which appears on central reservation signs and smart motorway overhead gantries to inform them of lane closures.

tailgating
Picture: Shutterstock

Rule 258 of the Code now states:

Red flashing lights. If red lights flash on a signal and a red “X” is showing, you MUST NOT drive in the lane shown as closed beyond the signal. This applies until you pass another signal indicating that the lane is no longer closed, by displaying the word “End” or a speed limit sign and you are sure that it is safe to proceed.

Red flashing lights. If red lights flash on a signal in the central reservation or on the side of the road and lane closed sign is showing, you MUST NOT go beyond the signal in any lane.”

(Graphic: Shutterstock)

Penalty

The red X signs are used on around 300 miles of smart motorway where there is no hard shoulder or the hard shoulder has been converted into an extra lane for traffic.

They can be activated remotely to shut a lane affected by a breakdown or accident but there are fears many drivers are ignoring them and having to swerve at the last minute to avoid obstructions.

The use of MUST NOT within the Code signifies that this is a legal requirement and drivers can be prosecuted for ignoring it.

The standard penalty for ignoring a red X symbol is a £100 fixed penalty notice.

Until recently, police had to catch you in the act to be able to issue an FPN but since June 10, forces have been able to use footage from gantry cameras to identify offenders and automatically issue then with fines.

hard shoulder breakdown
Critics say all-lane running smart motorways make it more dangerous for drivers who suffer a breakdown. (Picture: Shutterstock)

Controversy

Smart motorways have caused controversy since they were introduced.

On some the hard shoulder has been turned into an extra regular lane either at peak times or permanently. Supporters say this helps add road capacity and ease congestion with relatively little cost.

Matt Pates, who manages the East Midlands division of Highways England, recently argued that hard shoulders were no longer necessary as modern cars were far more reliable than older vehicles.

He also claimed motorways are “as safe, if not safer” without hard shoulders as they are “inhospitable” places for drivers, most of whom now get advanced warning if their car is developing a fault.

Critics, however, argue that remove the emergency lane leaves drivers without somewhere safe to stop should their car develop a sudden fault and puts recovery crews at greater risk. They also argue that not having a clear hard shoulder makes it harder for emergency vehicles to get through traffic when called to an incident.

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