Safer driving on motorways


Highways England motorways

Whatever part of England’s motorway network you’re using, we want you to stay safe, follow the signs and keep us all moving

Keep us all moving

England’s motorways connect people to families and friends, workers to jobs and businesses to their customers, which helps our nation thrive.

We want all drivers to have a safer, smoother journey.
Here’s how you can help:

England’s motorways are changing

We use technology to monitor and manage the flow of traffic. The technology is controlled from regional control centres which can activate and change signs and variable speed limits. This helps keep the traffic flowing so that you have a safer, more reliable journey.

These technology-enabled sections of motorways have enhancements such as electronic message signs that display red X signs and variable speed limits; sensors to monitor traffic volumes; CCTV cameras and emergency areas, with emergency roadside telephones.

Using the hard shoulder as an extra lane, rather than building a new one, also reduces the impact on the natural environment. And better traffic flow means less impact on air quality from stationary or slow moving vehicles.

We’re continuing to make changes to the design of motorways that use the hard shoulder as an extra lane, such as making emergency areas more visible, and for future schemes reducing the spacing to one mile.

Know what to
do in a breakdown


Disabled Motoring UK Chairman Alan Norton talks about why smart motorways are a good thing for disabled drivers and shares his advice on what to do in a breakdown situation.

Breaking down on a motorway

Knowing what to do in an emergency or a breakdown is key to keeping yourself and others safe.

If your vehicle has a problem on a motorway with no hard shoulder:

  • Move into the left hand lane and put your hazard lights on.
  • Exit at the next junction or services OR
  • Follow the orange SOS signs to an emergency area and call for help using the free telephone. This will tell us your location.

If you can’t get off the motorway or to an emergency area:

  • Move your vehicle as close as possible to the left-hand verge, boundary or slip road.
  • If you feel you can get out safely with any occupants, consider exiting your vehicle via the left-hand door, and wait behind the safety barrier if there is one and it is safe to do so. Keep clear of your vehicle and moving traffic at all times
  • Call 999 immediately

If your car stops unexpectedly in any lane and it is not safe to get out:

  • Keep your seatbelts and hazard lights on and call 999 immediately
  • We’ll close the lane and send help

If there is a hard shoulder on a motorway, you can use it to stop in an emergency only. If you can, get behind the safety barrier and away from your vehicle and moving traffic. Use the free SOS phone or call Highways England on 0300 123 5000 for help. Why not save the number in your phone now in case you ever need it?

Do not put out a warning triangle in any circumstances.

All motorists should be able to make their own recovery arrangements in the event of a breakdown. We advise you to carry details of your provider with you.

Remember, most breakdowns are avoidable and simple vehicle checks can help you have a safer journey. Check your tyres, fuel, oil and water. However, if your vehicle appears to have problems or is damaged, always try to exit the motorway.

Don’t ignore
the red X

Red X

When you’re driving along a motorway and you see a sign marked with a red X, it means stay out of that lane because there’s a hazard up ahead.

A red X means the lane ahead is closed to traffic. There may be an incident or people working ahead, and we may need to keep the lane clear for maintenance or emergency services. It could be you or your loved one that needs the protection of a red x sign.

Whenever you see a red X on a gantry sign above your lane, or on a large sign above the nearside (left hand) of the carriageway, you must move safely out of that lane. Arrows prior to the red x sign will indicate the next available lane for you to continue your journey. Signs will show when the lane has reopened.

Remember, it’s illegal to drive in a lane closed by a red X sign. If you’re caught, you could receive a fixed penalty of up to £100 and three points, and in some cases more severe penalties or a court appearance.

Following a new law being passed, police enforcement authorities have started rolling out the enforcement of red X offences using auto-detection by cameras on our network. This is on top of existing police powers.

Allowing cameras to automatically detect red X offences helps make England’s motorways safer for drivers in difficulty, roadworkers, recovery operators and emergency services.  You can do your bit by not driving or proceeding in a lane closed by a red X signal.

Variable speed,
steady progress

Variable speed limits

If you see a variable speed limit sign on a motorway, it means you shouldn’t exceed the speed limit displayed. Variable speed limits are there to keep you safe and keep the traffic moving. If you exceed the speed limit then you may be fined.

We sometimes vary the speed limit on certain sections of motorway to help steady the flow of traffic and reduce ‘stop-start’ traffic jams.

Variable speed limits can be set at busy times, in conjunction with a red X sign, or to manage a hazard or incident. They can also be automatically triggered by sensors in the road that monitor traffic flow.

A speed limit displayed inside a red circle is legally enforceable. If you go over the speed limit, you’re breaking the law and could receive a fine. We’ll let you know when it no longer applies by setting the national speed limit sign. If no speed limits inside a red circle are displayed then the national speed limit applies.

Our research shows that limiting your speed in these situations actually helps to keep traffic moving safely and minimises the disruption to your journey.

You should always drive at a safe speed according to the conditions and be aware of your stopping distance. Leave a two-second gap between the vehicle in front, and double that gap in wet or inclement weather.

Keeping left
is right

Keep left

When you’re driving along a motorway you should keep left unless you’re overtaking, no matter how many lanes the motorway has.

It’s a simple rule of the Highway Code, but one which some drivers don’t always follow. You should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear. The other lanes should only be used for overtaking slower-moving vehicles. Once you’re safely past them, you should return to the left-hand lane.

You mustn’t drive on the hard shoulder except in an emergency, or if directed to do so by the police, traffic officers or by signs.

Following the keep-left rule helps the traffic flow and avoids frustration with
lane-hoggers, so we all have a safer, smoother journey.