Sunday, 6 November 2011

Clarity of view

There is nothing that politicians like better than a good smokescreen whereby under cover of which they can either stick their noses in and whilst there possibly impose yet more draconian restrictions upon the populace - I refer to the unfortunate accident on the M5 in which people lost their lives and many were injured. According to the report on Politics Home the police are concentrating their investigation on the fact that a bonfire close to the motorway was the cause of the bank of smoke that caused vision problems for drivers.

Needless to say my condolences and sympathies go to those who lost their lives and to their families, together with my best wishes to those injured, for a speedy recovery. 

It would not surprise me in the slightest if the investigation resulted in our politicians over reacting and placing a blanket ban on any bonfire being lit within 'x' feet of a motorway. A few immediate questions do arise however:
  •  smoke from a fire can be seen from some distance and faced with that would not sensible drivers begin slowing down well before entering the smoke, or even stopping prior to that?
  • once in the smoke, were hazard lights deployed by those drivers?
  • it only affected one carriageway - was there no traffic on the unaffected carriageway?
  • if, as reported by an eyewitness (Observer), a car was driving at 60-70 mph in dense visibility therein lies a more valid reason for the carnage which followed.
  • reference has been made to the M4 crash near Hungerford. Having attended a speed awareness course I was shown a police simulation (based on witness statements) and what caused that crash was not fog, but driver errors. Perhaps that may well be found the reason for the M5 accident?
In nearly every eventuality where there is either loss of life, or injury, certain groups waste no time in jumping on their personal bandwagons - witness the Times (£) report that activists against the proposed raising of the speed limit to 80mph are claiming that 'it would have been worse'.

Just saying..................


TomTom said...

Having attended a speed awareness course Saves on points as I shall no doubt discover.....

As for bonfires, I do hope the Rugby Club was very well insured....but there are similar problems when farmers burn stubble in some areas - and yes, weird as it is some people increase speed when they are uncertain...observable fact

Sean O'Hare said...


O/T, but I've never managed to catch a window to register for comments on EUReferendum. Would you please convey my wishes for Dr North's speedy recovery from heart surgery.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

TT: Actually I went fully prepared to be my usual obnoxious self - believe it or not it was quite enjoyable and informative. Depends on the person taking it I suppose...

The point about farmers had crossed my mind and I did mean to include that (another senior citizen moment!)

You are also correct about people increasing speed, something I too have witnessed.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

So'H: Will do by email

PeterCharles said...

It is difficult to know exactly how it happened, various eye-witnesses say it was completely clear, or that a 'sudden' bank of fog descended and so on, as is typical in these things there is only confusion. The problem with eyewitnesses is that they often report what they thought they saw rather than what actually happened in front of their eyes, or they claim to have been present just as it happened but actually arrived at the scene ten minutes after and so on.

I know from personal experience of using the M5 quite frequently at one time, although the Midlands section, that very often the outside lane would suddenly congest and slow down, even stopping sometimes while the inner lanes seemed to move as normal. Careful observation gave the reason. Lorries pull out to pass other lorries, cars in the centre lane pull out to pass those lorries and suddenly the outside lane is congested. It is worst just past access roads, when a lorry or even several joining will often cause two or three lorries in the slow lane to simultaneously pull out, crowding cars and light vehicles into the outside lane. Making matters worse I am sure a large percentage of drivers pulling out simply don't look, or maybe their mirrors are incorrectly set.

I would say that is the cause of 90% of Motorway accidents. The simple mechanics of it often reverberates back through dozens of cars before a collision occurs.

My guess from what I have seen of the positioning of the accident and the vehicles involved is that this was indeed a lorry caused 'sudden congestion' incident that went particularly badly, perhaps due to poor visibility, too fast speeds, smoke, fog, driver distraction or any of a number of causes and probably a combination of several.

This reminds me of a central London accident analysis that was done several years ago. The result was that around 5% of accidents involved a black cab, less than expected given their ubiquity, however, over 70% of accidents had a black cab as a causal factor, sudden lane changes, pulling out aggressively, making sudden U-turns, suddenly speeding up or slowing down. Put simply, cab pulls out, car A brakes, car B hits it, taxi gone without even knowing there was an accident.

Back to this accident, we can expect all kinds of organisations and individuals with axes to grind to insist it was all the fault of this that or the other which must be banned, regulated, controlled etc. etc. just like the anti speed mph brigade has already done.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

PC: Fully accept and agree with your ideas as to what causes congestion, especially in the outside lane.

Sudden fog/smoke? Again I suspect that it was not sudden but gradually getting worse and not noticed due to driver inattention.

Your last paragraph sums up what will happen - mind you it gives all these bureaucrats something to do I suppose......

Edward Spalton said...

Peter Charles,

Having used the motorways intensively for forty years of travelling for my firm, I concur with you.

The setting or design of wing mirrors is an interesting one. The regulations for design come to us from the EU but the EU is only acting as an agent for a UN organisation called (I think) UNECE which sets worldwide standards.

With his accustomed thoroughness, Dr. Richard North followed the process of "comitology" all the way through. We will have to hope for his speedy recovery when he might look into this matter and its possible relation to this incident.

In my experience, the 70 mph speed limit is rarely kept anyway so an increase to 80 mph would make little difference de facto.

Because so much legislation now goes through on auto pilot from EU Directives something like this gives busybodies a chance to make MPs feel important.

My particular bete noire was the unseemly panic amongst MPs after the Dunblane shootings which resulted in stringent fire arms legislation "to stop anyone ever again being shot by a legally held handgun". Something which completely overlooked the illegally held handguns and the people who use them so freely.