Motorway mayhem

Debris on the M5 motorway in Somerset,  where seven people died in a multiple vehicle crash on Friday night. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday November 6, 2011. Avon and Somerset Police said no more bodies were found as they removed the vehicles from the scene overnight. The accident on the M5 in Somerset involved 34 vehicles and left some 51 people injured. See PA story POLICE M5. Photo credit should read: David Hedges/PA Wire
Debris on the M5 motorway in Somerset, where seven people died in a multiple vehicle crash on Friday night. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday November 6, 2011. Avon and Somerset Police said no more bodies were found as they removed the vehicles from the scene overnight. The accident on the M5 in Somerset involved 34 vehicles and left some 51 people injured. See PA story POLICE M5. Photo credit should read: David Hedges/PA Wire
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The Lytham man who made Blackpool effectively a drive-in resort direct from the motorway stands by the network he helped shape long ago as the “safest in the world”.

Lancashire County Council’s former bridgemaster Harry Yeadon helped change the motoring map of Great Britain, helping oversee the building of the first stretch of motorway, the M6 Preston bypass, along with the link that bears his name (Yeadon Way) between the M55 and Blackpool.

But can our motorway network cope with the volume of traffic now carried? And are drivers placing blind faith in motorway safety and their own ability to respond at speed to changing conditions?

Resort road safety chiefs today issued safety warnings after a graphic reminder of the carnage created at speed upon our motorway in worsening winter conditions.

Police were already investigating one of the worst motorway crashes in memory – a 34 vehicle pile-up which created a fireball and claimed seven lives and left 51 injured on the M5 in Somerset – when chaos struck again. A crash involving 11 vehicles (four of them lorries) on the M6 motorway south of Preston early on Sunday injured six people.

As with the M5 crash fog was a factor, although eye witnesses to the M5 disaster reported a thick pall of smoke believed to have drifted from a nearby firework display.

On Sunday, visibility on the M6 was down to 30ft as a result of fog. Lancashire police are reminding locals to drive with caution.

The M6 was Britain’s first motorway, opened in 1958, built by Lancashire’s bridgemaster, Sir James Drake, with Harry, then assistant engineer, helping supervise construction. Harry played a major role in other projects, building on the Preston blueprint.

He’s now appalled at proposals to increase the motorway speed limit to 80mph – and double the time before MOTs are required.

“I would think that what has happened in recent days will make people think again. Quite apart from the impact on our carbon footprint it would be absolute folly in safety terms. I’m in favour of reducing the speed limit. In America most expressways operate with a speed limit of 50mph. That’s far safer. As for extending the time required between MOTs – people are already cutting back on car servicing and a well-maintained car is a safer car. Drivers must learn to plan ahead, allow reasonable time, learn to anticipate road conditions and above all leave a reasonable distance between each other. Some are blase about risks.”

Harry maintains motorways are still the safest form of road travel in Britain. Statistics bear this out. The Department of Transport reports road casualties fell by 1.6 per cent last year. Most fatalities (62 per cent) occurred on rural roads. A local man, a motorcylist, died after being involved in a collision with a car on the A588 at Hambleton on Sunday afternoon. Thirty two per cent of fatalities occur on urban roads and just six per cent on motorways, in spite of carrying 20 per cent of traffic. It equates to three deaths per billion vehicle mile travelled, a 47 per cent fall on the figure for 2006.

“Motorways have stood the test of time,” maintains Harry. “But they need to move with the times. I’m dead against the idea of widening motorways, we should be looking at means of dispersing traffic, rather than concentrating on single corridors. Depriving local highways authorities of finance isn’t going to help at all. Economies are also being made with motorway lighting. Things will get worse.”

Practical advice comes from Blackpool’s road safety manager Carol Bracegirdle adds: “If I could get one safety message across it would be this... make sure you leave a safe distance from another car especially on the motorway in treacherous conditions or at night – people drive far too close to each other. Be aware of low sun at this time of year, keep sunglasses handy. In severe weather, stay off the road. If you must drive, plan your journey, listen to travel information, clear windows, lights and mirrors, carry ice scraper and de-icer, keep to main roads likely to have been gritted.

“Drive at the right speed for conditions and be aware a speed limit is not a speed target. If braking suddenly put hazard lights on, especially on the motorway or at night. Carry water, a blanket, torch, shovel in case you get stuck in snow, de-icer, ice scraper, reflective waistcoat. Remember that people caught up in the M5 crash had to cross the central reservation in the dark.

“Maintain your vehicle, ensure you have enough windscreen wash, lights work, tyres have enough tread. Also make sure you know where your fog light is – many don’t. In fog drive very slowly, using dipped headlights, and use fog lights. Fog is often patchy so try not to speed up as visibility improves as you could find yourself back in the thick of it all.”

l For a free ice scraper (Blackpool residents only) contact the travel & road safety team on 01253 476107 or roadsafety@blackpool.gov.uk