UK ambulance crews have urged motorists to “respect” the red X symbols that denote closed lanes on the motorway. The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) has joined forces with National Highways, the organisation in charge of England’s motorways, to raise awareness of the issue.

The calls come as smart motorways remain under intense scrutiny. Under pressure from various campaigners, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps first announced the ‘dynamic hard shoulder’ – where the hard shoulder could be temporarily used as a ‘live’ lane, depending on traffic conditions – would be scrapped in favour of permanent all-lane running. Then he confirmed the rollout of all-lane running roads would be halted while the government gathers data on safety.

National Highways is now moving to increase awareness of smart motorways, while enforcement measures have been gradually introduced over the past few years. For more than 20 years, it has been an offence to drive in a lane closed by a red X, with penalties of up to £100 and three points. In some, more severe cases, it can even result in a court appearance.

Motorway red X

In June 2019, there was a change in legislation, allowing cameras to automatically detect vehicles ignoring red X signs so the police can take action. Then, in April 2021, National Highways said it would “accelerate” its camera upgrade programme. By the end of September this year, the organisation says it will have upgraded all cameras that automatically detect vehicles using lanes closed by a red X.

And now the ambulance service has joined the public awareness campaign, telling motorists how important the red X signs are for emergency services.

Ambulance on M1 motorway Watford UK

“The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives fully supports the National Highways campaign to improve public understanding of the important role red X signs over closed motorway lanes play in helping protect drivers and other road users from imminent dangers ahead,” said the AACE’s managing director, Martin Flaherty. “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 signs 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 the Red X lane is closed for the safety of all – and especially to protect the scene of an accident and those emergency and essential services who may be on the carriageway to deal with the aftermath.”

Meanwhile National Highways’ road safety team leader, Jamie Hassall, said the red X signs were there for everyone’s safety, and he criticised drivers who fail to comply for putting lives at risk.

“Ambulance crews do an amazing job in saving lives but need space to work safely,” said Hassall. “Although it may not be immediately obvious why a lane is closed, we will have done so for a good reason so it’s important for drivers to respect the X and move out of the closed lane.

“A Red X signal is there for the safety of everyone on the road – 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.”