Six Point Plan to End Crazy Road Closures
Every few days comes news that yet another motorway has been closed for a prolonged period after an accident. Drivers and their passengers are stuck for many hours, even overnight, without water, food, or toilet facilities. There is apparent significant lack of concern for their well-being and liberty by the police.
Prolonged closures occur on other roads too, even whole town centres such as Lincoln a few months ago closed for 6 hours despite the cause of a fatal accident being patently obvious. Motorways, however, are a special case because drivers are not allowed to simply turn around and find another route.
The Association of British Drivers calls for immediate action to stop the police carrying out actions which effectively constitute illegal imprisonment. It proposes a six-point plan which will both safeguard the public interest and maintain confidence in the Police.
The ABD's Six Point Plan
- Deal with casualties, and threats to life (chemical spillages, fire risk, etc)
- If the carriageway is likely to be closed for any length of time, the police should seek to clear traffic off the motorway as soon as possible. This may be done by allowing traffic past the obstruction, or by turning vehicles round under police instruction to go back the 'wrong way' to the previous junction. This should take priority for police manpower over evidence gathering (with the exception of time-critical evidence, e.g. bloodstains at risk of being washed away by rain).
- In order to assist with the evacuation of traffic from closed motorways there should be emergency exits at regular intervals. These may take the form of existing works access roads. Where no such roads exist, new ones should be constructed to link the motorway with roads which cross it. These roads would normally be kept gated to prevent unauthorised use, but would be unlocked by the police in order to get traffic off the motorway.
- In places it may also be possible to have overlapping centre barriers which will prevent vehicles travelling in the normal direction from crossing the central reservation but would allow vehicles travelling the wrong way, under police supervision, to cross over to the other side to get away from the incident.
- In order to prevent traffic joining a closed section of motorway there should be Flashing Red Lights, similar to those already used at level crossings and fire stations 1 under the control of the police on entry slip roads which would tell drivers not to go onto the motorway. At present the police have to get a patrol car to the junction to close it. They should be able to do so at the flick of a switch.
- There should be an escalating scale of authorisation for keeping a major route closed, similar to the escalating scale of authorisation required under PACE for detaining persons in custody. The police must realise that closing a motorway keeps thousands of people prisoner in their own vehicles.
We suggest the following scale of authorisation:
At each review proper consideration must be given to balancing the need to gather evidence against the massive disruption to countless people's lives, their basic welfare, the cost to businesses, and the economic damage caused to the country by closing a major part of its infrastructure. Evidence should be gathered quickly in order to get the road open again as soon as possible. It should also be borne in mind that extra traffic diverted onto local roads will carry a greater risk of further accidents, as may people trying to make up lost time — there's no point carrying out a gold-plated investigation into one accident if in doing so they cause ten more.
- Immediate closure can be requested by any police officer on the scene, but must be authorised by the duty inspector in the force control room.
- After 1 hour the closure must be reviewed by an Assistant Chief Constable or above, and if authorised it should be further reviewed by same at one hour intervals.
- After 3 hours the closure should be reviewed by a Home Office minister, and will continue to be reviewed by same at 3 hourly intervals until either the road is re-opened or, in cases of severe damage to the road surface, bridges, etc, until a road closure order is sought from the council/highways agency to allow the work to be completed. This last is to cover eventualities such as the closure of the last section of the M50 in the 1970's because a lorry had demolished an overbridge, and the closure of the access between Tyburn Road and the Aston Expressway (A38M) at Spaghetti Junction in 1990 because a petrol tanker had exploded underneath it. In both cases the road was closed for about twelve months, and it would clearly be unreasonable to expect frequent reviews to continue for a year.
- As soon as practicable, either after evidence has been gathered, or preferably even whilst it's taking place, recovery of vehicles and any necessary repairs to motorway infrastructure should commence. When deciding how and when to do this consideration should be given to getting the carriageway open, and it may be better to defer recovery until a quieter period rather than commence it immediately. For example, in the case of a lorry which has overturned and is partially blocking the hard shoulder it may be preferable to operate the motorway on a reduced number of lanes with a speed restriction for the rest of the day and close the motorway again in the small hours of the following morning to recover it rather than keep the motorway closed during busy periods for recovery.
- The police should make greater efforts to communicate what is happening to stuck drivers via local radio stations. Consideration should also be given to using cell broadcasting 2 which would allow the police to send an SMS message to all cellular phones within range of a specific cellular tower, such towers already cover the motorway network.
- After the incident is over a full report of the police actions must be made available to the public so as to eliminate the current perception that the police frequently close motorways for excessive periods without reasonable cause.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. Flashing Red Lights
2. Cell Broadcasting
Notes for Editors about the ABD