Smart Motorway ‘cash cow’ rakes in millions in fines with 60mph limit to ‘lower pollution’

Motorists face fines for failing to obey Red X signs
Motorists face fines for failing to obey Red X signs - ALAMY

A smart motorway which had a 60mph speed limit imposed to “lower pollution” has netted millions of pounds in fines for the Treasury.

A total of 22,546 motorists were fined for speeding on a 2.6 mile stretch of the M1 between junction 33 and 34 near Sheffield and Rotherham over four years.

A single camera issued the tickets on the northbound section of the motorway where National Highways had reduced the speed limit from 70mph to 60mph from 2020.

If those fines were paid in full, the Government would have received more than £2.25 million as part of the 60mph speed limit “trial”.

A total of 119,204 fines were issued to motorists who broke all speed limits - from 70mph down to 30mph – and ignored Red X lane closures on a wider stretch between junction 30 and 35a from 2020 to last year, the newly released data shows.

It means that the 18-mile stretch of the M1 made £11,920,400, or £8,164 a day over four years.

An 18-mile stretch of the M1 made £11,920,400, or £8,164 a day over four years
An 18-mile stretch of the M1 made £11,920,400, or £8,164 a day over four years - iStockphoto

National Highways can impose variable speed limits and close lanes to traffic by setting signs on overhead gantries on smart motorways. The failure to obey new signs can result in a £100 fine and penalty points, as well as increased insurance premiums.

About 1,300 motorists are fined each year on this section of the M1 for failing to obey Red X signs that close a lane to traffic.

Between 2022 and 2023, a total of 2,629 fines were issued to motorists who ignored Red X lane closures. In 2022, there were 1,341 fines issued, dropping slightly to 1,288 last year.

That is equivalent to about three vehicles driving in closed lanes each day. A lane can be closed with a Red X in the event of a life and death emergency where a car has broken down in a live lane where the hard shoulder has been scrapped.

The South Yorkshire Police data, released after the Telegraph submitted a Freedom of Information application, shows how automatic number plate recognition cameras captured the most fines when a 60mph speed limit was imposed.

Four years

Over those four years between junctions 30 and 35a, a total of 41,224 fines were issued for 60mph speed limit contraventions, worth £4 million.

However, only 24,511 fines were issued for motorists exceeding the 70mph motorway limit across the same stretch and time period.

In September 2020, National Highways introduced “air quality trials” involving a 60mph speed limit between Junctions 33 and 34 to try to improve pollution across South Yorkshire.

The experiment was abandoned due to the pandemic reducing traffic volumes, but was reinstated in 2021 and is currently ongoing.

Asked whether the 60mph trial had actually improved air quality, Stephen Elderkin, National Highways’ Director of Environmental Sustainability, said: “We are working hard to finalise the analysis of the vast amount of data collected and will be publishing the reports in due course.”

Financial interest

Junction 30 to 35a of the M1 became notorious after four motorists were killed when their vehicles broke down in live lanes after they failed to reach an emergency refuge.

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason, 44, was killed on that section of the M1 in 2019 and has campaigned against the smart motorways ever since, said the number of fines issued suggested the Government may have a financial interest in keeping existing smart motorways.

“Is the massive revenue smart motorways provide the reason why the government defends them in the face of overwhelming hatred towards them from the public?,” she asked.

She added that she fears National Highways has failed to adequately educate the public about Red X signs.

Money raised from all such fines goes to the Consolidated Fund, essentially the Government’s bank account, and is not ring-fenced to be spent on transport.

A Government spokesman added: “Speeding on any road is dangerous, which is why we have strict laws in place against it, and fines help to enforce them.

“Recognising public concerns, we’ve cancelled new smart motorways and we’re investing £900 million for safety improvements, including progressing the construction of 150 extra emergency areas.”

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