In my police vehicle are a pair of binoculars……..more about them later. We have all been in that position, stuck in standing traffic for hours on end, getting frustrated and hot under the collar. I was working Christmas day when the tragic events unfolded of a fatal RTC on the M6 motorway in Staffordshire. The ensuing chaos had a knock on effect to our own motorway patrol group. Since that tragic day, several newspaper articles have transpired to question why the network was shut for so long and the inevitable incompetence of those that shut it. Myself and others in “the job” together with the public have become angered at the media response from certain quarters. Better people than myself have already blogged on the situation. @nathanconstable piece entitled Bull in a china shop and @TheCustodySgt piece Better late….than never can be read through the links. Education they say will lift anybody from poverty and so with that in mind, my own piece is solely intended to educate those from the poverty of ignorance.
I have been to the scene of many fatal RTC’s. Pedestrians run over, cross overs (the central reservation breached), occupants ejected from their vehicles, vehicle’s leaving the carriageway, multiple vehicle RTC’s, vehicle’s on fire. The list could go on. There has even been a RTC where a murder has taken place. As I have eluded to previously in a piece called The Black Arts they are always treated as an unlawful killing until proved otherwise. Using a mobile phone whilst driving which results in the death of another is unlawful. Police Officer’s are very reluctant to close a carriageway for several reasons and so are our bosses. The obvious delay it causes. It costs on average £1 million an hour in lost revenue to the country to close a motorway and for every minute a motorway is shut one mile of standing traffic accumulates. Indeed I have become the victim of my own road closure when a foreign driver, whilst texting, caused a five vehicle HGV shunt. The motorway was shut for five hours whilst heavy lifting gear was brought in to clear the debris. I was relieved at the scene in order for me to go home and finding myself having to take a different route.
What actually happens when a serious or fatal RTC is reported to the police? The following paragraphs will hopefully educate.
As I have said, serious incidents take many forms but what about those binoculars? A chemical tanker overturns and the driver is stood on top of his overturned cab waving his arms frantically. Are they asking for help or telling us to keep clear? Many chemical spills are lethal and also produce toxic gas clouds. My binoculars’ will hopefully let me see the hazchem board on the vehicle or the registration plate in order for me to know what has been spilled onto the carriageway. Forget Sulphuric acid; hot bitumen or Bromide are about as nasty as it gets. Chloride produces a lethal gas cloud and I will be wanting to know which way the wind is blowing. I will need those binocular’s as I wont approach within half a mile.
So lets take an incident on the motorway network. The nearest car may not necessarily stop at the scene. If there are massive tail backs they will block the nearest junction and take traffic off. The car behind will then attend the scene. Potential suicidal jumpers from an over bridge? Again the lead car may carry through the scene and turn at the next junction stopping traffic on the opposing carriageway. For does not an over bridge cross both sections of carriageway? It would be pointless to hold up emergency vehicles in a block of there own making. Once at the scene the primary objective is the preservation of life. Once that has been achieved then the investigation begins. Initial and then forensic, I’m afraid it all takes time. But hang one we closed the junction prior to the scene, we still must have vehicle’s stranded between the junction and the scene. The police liaise with the Highways Agency and we organise reward relief pretty early on. Vehicles are turned in the carriageway in blocks and are escorted contraflow back to the junction. I apologise to the HGV and coach drivers reading this. We leave you until the last. There’s good reason for this, you need the most room to manoeuvre.
Often major incidents occur in the height of summer. Cars overheating stuck in standing traffic. If able we will deploy a car to do tail back duties. Running up and down the hard shoulder looking for breakdowns. In the past we have been deployed to get bottled water and hand them out to stranded motorists.
We close roads for a reason and we do not do it lightly. We do everything to facilitate your journey in spite of a closure. Frustrating yes, unnecessary no.