The truck driver looked down at me from his cab and said angrily “I cannot tolerate any diversions, I must be allowed through“. Five hundred meters down the road was one of the worst car crashes I’ve seen, the air ambulance had just landed to take away a severely injured casualty and here was this bloke furious at the fact that he’d have to take an alternate route.
Unfortunately this is the reaction we sometimes get from motorists who perhaps don’t fully understand why it becomes necessary to shut roads. I can appreciate it can be inconvenient and will indeed cause delays but then there are good reasons for us needing to restrict the traffic flow and we only do so when we have no other real choice.
When it comes to us taking the decision to shut a road, there are usually two main reasons that we’ll have needed to do so – either the road is blocked meaning it couldn’t be used anyway, or there are casualties at the scene who can’t be treated safely whilst the road is in use. Often both of these factors apply.
When it is the case that the road is blocked, we usually need to wait for the recovery vehicles to come out and drag the damaged vehicles out of the way. We’re also likely to need the Highways Agency to attend and collect debris, repair any street furniture and to make sure that various engine fluids are mopped from the road surface.
With casualties, the ambulance and fire crews struggle to work safely if there is a live stream of traffic nearby. They may need to cut vehicles apart or the helicopter might require a space to land, both which will require plenty of room to do safely.
In the case of fatal accidents, there’s also the consideration that we might need to remove the deceased in which case there’s usually two options. We’ll either transfer them at the scene to another vehicle for transport to the hospital or alternatively, place the vehicle containing the body onto a recovery truck and then do the necessary at the garage. Either way dignity requires that the road is shut whilst we do so.
I can understand that people do get frustrated when we have shut roads and often this is because the solutions we put in place won’t be ideal. We have a very short amount of time to decide which roads to shut off and where they need to be closed and furthermore, roads aren’t designed to be closed. When you’ve got multiple side streets, residents wanting to get back to their houses and rush hour traffic too, things can get pretty difficult.
We’ll try our best to reevaluate how roads have been closed off when we’re able and if the roads are going to be closed for a length of time, will ask the council to put in place more permanent barriers and diversion signs. Either way it’s obviously not ideal and when you have motorists who don’t know the area, traffic congestion is unfortunately going to be inevitable.
As for how long we keep the road closed for, much depends on how serious the accident has been. When it comes to damage caused to the road and street furniture then the councils are usually incredibly quick at making repairs. New railings appear, bus stops are put back together and lamp posts seem to magically grow out of the ground – give it an hour and you’d not know there’d been an accident at all.
Crashes involving life changing or fatal accidents are likely to cause longer closures. The traffic units need time to investigate the cause of the accident and it’s possible the accident reconstruction team will want to take photographs and measurements to gather all the evidence they can. A serious crash site will be treated as a crime scene with access being restricted until the officers are satisfied nothing has been missed.
As soon as we’re able to we’ll reopen the roads and get the traffic flowing normally again. I know it’s frustrating to see an officer standing in the middle of the road you were hoping to drive down waving his hands around and diverting you elsewhere but unfortunately we usually have no choice.
We need to do the best we can to ensure that those injured in traffic accidents get the treatment they need and the best way to look at it is this – were it yourself in the upturned car or someone you know, you’d want us to do the same.