Wheeler-dealers trading cars, people picking flowers, and a driver who thought the “fire” notification on their dashboard display meant their car was ablaze - instead of the name of the Adele track they were listening to.
These are just some of the reasons Highways Agency Traffic Officers were given by drivers who had stopped illegally on the hard shoulder of motorways. [See below for 10 of the most inappropriate reasons.] It is illegal to stop on a hard shoulder if there is no emergency.
Agency data shows that between July and September last year 2,062 drivers stopped on the hard shoulder when there was no emergency. It is also illegal to drive under a red X sign which is displayed when the lane ahead is closed.
Today the Agency is urging drivers to drive within the law.
Jamie Hassall, Highways Agency national enforcement co-ordinator, said:
Every day, millions of people use our motorways. Most of them use the hard shoulder correctly and don’t ignore red X’s, but we are appealing to the few who put themselves, other road users, and those working on motorways at risk.
Where the hard shoulder is used as an additional traffic lane at peak times, you can only drive on it if there is a speed limit over it. When a red X is displayed over any lane, it’s simple – don’t drive on it.
The government is investing record amounts in roads, which includes making motorways ‘smarter’ by upgrading the most congested sections.
A smart motorway is a section of motorway with additional technology to actively manage traffic to improve journeys. Smart motorways tell drivers what speed to drive at, when the hard shoulder is open to traffic and when lanes are closed by showing a red X.
The Central Motorway Police Group (CMPG) has warned drivers could face a fine and points on their licence, as driving on the hard shoulder is illegal and unsafe.
Inspector Derek Roberts, Central Motorway Police Group, said:
Between September 2013 and April 2014 we sent over 700 letters to road users misusing the hard shoulder and we have had less than 20 repeat offences. We are extremely encouraged by the results so far, all the indications are that this joint work with the Highways Agency is having a significant impact on educating and changing driver behaviour.
Education is a key element to tackling hard shoulder misuse and we will be further developing the warning letter campaign. However, we will not hesitate to take formal action against those who are clearly and deliberately flouting the law.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), as part of this summer’s ‘Motorway Month’, echoes these calls and is encouraging drivers to be prepared before they head out this summer.
IAM’s top advanced driver, Peter Rodger, said:
Taking some steps to prepare yourself and your vehicle before setting off on your much-deserved summer break will mean you’ll have a far more enjoyable time getting there.
Drivers can reduce the risk of their vehicle breaking down by keeping it well maintained and being prepared before they travel – knowing your route, having enough fuel and safe tyres. Some of the most common recorded reasons for breakdowns are tyre related, electrical or mechanical fault, fuel related, overheating and loss of power.
Ten of the most inappropriate reasons given to our traffic officers by drivers who have stopped on the hard shoulder in a non-emergency situation are:
- One motorist pulled over because they saw fire” on their dashboard display, it later turned out it was the name of the Adele track they were listening to.
- One motorist parked up and fell asleep on the M6.
- People stopping to read a map or check their sat-navs.
- Traffic officers stopped with two cars on the hard shoulder – the owners were half way through the selling and buying process for one of the cars.
- One driver realised their car insurance policy was up for renewal – they were ringing around for quotes to renew.
- Parents feeding children.
- Taxi drivers waiting on the hard shoulder around Heathrow airport for their client’s flights to arrive.
- A mobile phone operator, stopping at regular intervals in their private car carrying out signal tests on the hard shoulder.
- A driver who stopped to pick flowers.
- Have you broken down Sir? No, came the reply, we are taking pictures of our new born grandchild (in their open top sports car) as it is a lovely day.
For more information on safe summer driving and smart motorways visit http://www.highways.gov.uk/summer
You can find out more information about smart motorways and red ‘Xs’ by watching our “what is a smart motorway” film on YouTube:
This short animation also highlights in shocking detail the consequences of ignoring a red X:
Members of the public should contact the Highways Agency Information Line on 0300 123 5000
Journalists should contact the Highways Agency press office on 0844 693 1448 and use the menu to speak to the most appropriate press officer.