Saturday, 5 April 2014

Features: M62 special report: Chaos and misery on the motorway

Drivers have faced hours of misery on the M62 in recent weeks after a number of accidents in the region have brought the motorway to a standstill.

Traffic has been held up on the motorway for as long seven hours while police and the Highways Agency cleared up after a series of incidents.

“When you have considerable disruption on a piece of road, the authorities are held to account on performance - they need to answer to the public whether the incidents were just an unfortunate event or whether there is a need to assess the way that road is run,” said Luke Bosdet, spokesman for the AA.

Between 2007 and 2012, there was an average of 13 accidents a month on the M62 in our region, resulting in 1,503 casualties.

Of these, 106 were killed or seriously injured.

The vast majority of them occurred between junction 22 (Rishworth Moor) and junction 34 (Selby).

“We have to make sure that the data is accurate and validated,” said Antony Firth, asset management team leader at the Highways Agency. “The most recent annual report is for casualties in 2012, and the initial headlines for that were published in July 2013 and the final report wasn’t updated until February 2014 - so we’re two years behind “

Since 2012, the M62 has gone through drastic changes, with traffic on the motorway between junction 25 (Brighouse) and 30 (Rothwell) being regulated by managed or ‘smart’ motorways.

There are concerns that the figures used by the Highways Agency to inform policy are for motorway conditions that are no longer relevant.

However, Mr Firth said that many of the problems on the motorways are the fault of drivers.

“We are always looking at the causes of road accidents - are there certain patterns, certain locations - we look for trends over a long period of time to see what can be done,” he said.

“There’s one common factor with 90 per cent of crashes and that’s humans drive cars and humans make errors.”

The police agree, and have been shocked over the years at the carelessness of some drivers on the motorways.

Chief Inspector Mark Bownass, of West Yorkshire Police’s Road Patrol Unit, said: “There are four major contributing factors to accidents on the motorway that lead to people being seriously injured or killed - excessive speed, drink and drug driving, failure to wear seatbelts and in-vehicle distractions like mobile phones.”

The police regularly patrol the motorway and have caught drivers using mobile phones, watching DVDs and applying make-up while driving.

“We’ve caught people driving with their mirror down, putting lipstick and mascara on,” said Mr Bownass.

“That kind of thing is dangerous - they’re not concentrating on the road so how can they be fully aware of what’s going on?”

Drivers have been critical of the amount of time it takes the Highways Agency and police to clean up the motorway after a major incident.

If someone is killed on the motorway, it is necessary that the police treat the crash site as a crime scene and thoroughly investigate the incident for the coroner.

“Long delays are a common gripe of people travelling on the motorways, but the police have a very difficult job to do,” said Mr Bosdet.

“If it was a member of your family who died in an accident, would you not want a full analysis of the circumstances?”

Mr Firth said some of the incidents that cause long delays are as a result of HGVs shedding their loads onto the motorway and the complexity involved in cleaning it up.

“There was an incident on the M6 on March 14 where a truck shed its load of milk across the carriageway.

“You’d think something like milk would be harmless and simple to clean up, but milk actually attacks the stuff our roads are made of - we had a similar thing last year on the M62 with orange juice.

“So, you have to clean up the road, get the lorry recovered and make sure it’s safe.

“You might have to replace barriers, resurface the road - there are all manner of reasons why there might be a delay.”

The main issue for many drivers when there are delays is the uncertainty of not knowing what has happened or how long they will be stuck in traffic.

“Half of the problem is about the flow of information at the time of the incident,” said Mr Busdet. “If there’s information coming about what’s going on and when things will be cleared, that will cool some of the tempers.”

The Highways Agency use local radio, social media and signs on the motorway to warn drivers of incidents - this can help drivers avoid the delays if not already caught up, but offers little solace to those already stuck on the motorway.

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