Recent months have seen Grantham and the surrounding area blighted by road accidents and their resultant tailbacks. From broken down lorries on the A52 to more severe crashes on the A1 these events not only impact on those directly involved but the knock on effect on traffic and, therefore, the economy is enormous. Barely a week seems to go by without Grantham’s roads being gridlocked for hours when traffic is diverted through while an accident is dealt with, cleared up and investigated. The resultant delays see people late for work, deliveries delayed as well as transport connections missed.
The problem is that serious road accidents cause disruption to traffic, not only directly on the road where the accident occurs but across the surrounding road network. Congestion costs a great deal in terms of delays but also in potential further accidents caused by stationary vehicles.
The police work to national guidance, that in simple terms treat the scene of a serious accident as a possible crime scene. The relevant Highways Authority also has a critical role to play in managing incidents. They control traffic around incident scenes, instigating strategic message signing, appropriate diversions, liaising with other road service providers, restoring the network afterwards and identifying and disseminating any lessons learned.
Where a serious accident occurs the guiding principle is that all fatal collisions should be treated as “unlawful killings” until the facts are established. Therefore, police will secure the accident site as a crime scene, taking measurements and photographs, examining vehicles and debris, identifying witnesses, etc. This all takes a tremendous amount of time. Annecodal evidence suggests that for every fatality, approximately three serious investigations are conducted each taking between three and four hours. I’m sure no one would deny that serious accidents need to be investigated however I do believe we have erred too far on the side of caution and are missing the bigger picture. It seems pretty clear, and understandable that the police lean on the side of caution in terms of ensuring that no case requiring investigation is missed and gathering detailed evidence even where the cause of the accident is clear, rather than keeping lengthy road closures to a minimum.
With increasing traffic on our roads and the reliance on roads infrastructure, especially in rural areas like Lincolnshire, we need a serious analysis on whether we are striking the right balance between the responsibility of the specific accident investigation and the needs of the wider traveling public. Recent work by the Metropolitan Police and further analysis by the RAC has identified some areas where improvements could be made:
– Centralised specialist 24/7 accident investigation teams have been shown to have a dramatic impact on the quality and speed of investigations. Especially where all staff were trained in photography and analysis.
– Adjusting the current framework practice to allow debris and wreckage to be removed far earlier, would enable roads to be open quicker, therefore, reducing tailbacks.
– If better use were made of laser scanning equipment, the actual scene could also be mapped and documented in a more timely fashion.
– Policies around traffic management, diversions and contraflows need to be reviewed with an eye to expediency. Can more be done to keep cars moving in the vicinity of the scene without hampering recovery and investigation?
The final point has to be about the balance. Although controversial to consider, is it time to raise the bar for when an accident scene becomes a crime scene?