Nearly a quarter of drivers have ignored a red X sign on a smart motorway, according to new research.

Of the 2,093 responders of a RAC Opinion Panel survey, 23% admitted they have driven in a lane on a smart motorway that had been closed by a red X sign.

Of these, 19% said they have done this occasionally by accident and 1% have done it often accidentally, while 3% have done it on purpose.

This is in spite of there being virtually no lack of understanding as to what a red X sign means, with 99% knowing it means a lane is closed and must not be driven in, with 84% of those who have driven on a motorway in the last year having seen one.

When asked what the first thing they do when they see a red X sign is, 87% said they move into another lane when it is safe to do so, while the other 13% admitted they may go past one or two of the signs before doing the same thing.

This was called into question, though, as 48% of respondents saying they frequently see other drivers ignoring red X signs and 36% saying they see it occasionally, while only 7% said they never see it at all.

66% of those surveyed said they were in favour of cameras being used to enforce red X signs, while the rest were opposed to the idea.

Driving in a closed smart motorway lane has been an offence since March 2018, but Highways England admitted last summer it was waiting for Home Office approval for the cameras it intends to use to automatically enforce so-called ‘red X offences.

The company has, however, issued more than 160,000 warning letters in the last two years to drivers who had either used a section of hard shoulder when it was not designated as a running lane, or had ignored a red X sign.

In addition, the public body is working with the Home Office to create legislation that will allow for stricter enforcement of smart motorway rules.

RAC spokesperson Simon Williams said red X signs were of “paramount” safety importance, as drivers who ignore them risk crashing into a broken-down vehicle that could be stranded in the lane, which could result in fatal consequences for any motorists or road workers involved.