Fleet News

Analysis: M5 crash raises doubts over 80mph limit plan changes

Government plans to increase the speed limit from 70 to 80mph have been thrown into doubt following the tragic accident on the M5 which left seven people dead and 51 injured.

The Government claims that raising the motorway speed limit would be good for business (Fleet News, October 13). However, Brake says although there are fewer crashes on motorways per mile travelled than on other roads, they are more likely to lead to death because of the high speeds involved.

“Government policy should not be doing anything to increase the number of man-made, unnatural deaths occurring,” said Brake senior campaigns’ officer Ellen Booth.

In the UK, 2% of motorway crashes are fatal, compared with 1.4% of all crashes, according to the charity. Department for Transport figures show there were 118 motorway deaths out of 1,850 on Britain’s roads in 2010.

But asked whether the incident would have any impact on government proposals to raise the motorway speed limit, road safety minister Mike Penning said: “We will look very carefully at what comes out of this and see what sort of speeds were involved and put that into the consultation.”

The Association of British Drivers (ABD) said no conclusions should be drawn about the causes until after the accident investigation is complete. ABD chairman Brian Gregory said: “Accidents aren’t caused by a ‘number on a pole’.”

Meanwhile, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) is calling for the Government to pilot the proposed 80mph speed limit on a controlled and managed motorway to assess its practicality and safety, and road users’ reaction.

IAM CEO Simon Best said: “A detailed trial is needed to assess risks and if they are shown to increase significantly a better-enforced 70 limit may be more appropriate.”

Fog has been blamed for another pile-up which occurred within 48 hours of the M5 crash. The incident involved 11 vehicles on the M6 in Lancashire after visibility was reduced to about 30ft in places in the early hours of November 6.

One person was trapped in a lorry and had to be released by firefighters, while six people were injured, none of them seriously in the incident which happened close to junction 29, near Leyland, south of Preston.

Fog is believed to have been one factor in the M5 crash along with smoke from a nearby organised bonfire night event and ACFO South West and Wales chairman Tim Watts told Fleet News they will be keeping a close eye on events.

He said: “As an organisation representing the voice of fleet operators across the UK we will be looking very carefully at what comes out of the investigation so that we can better understand how the combination of factors such as driver behaviour, speed, weather and road conditions influenced this tragic accident and to see what lessons might be learnt so that fleet operators can raise awareness and deliver policy and operational enhancements that help their drivers to stay safe in all road and weather conditions.

“Whilst we don't know yet what caused this accident and what happened in the immediate aftermath of the accident, the principal aspects for fleet operators to consider are ensuring that they are regularly engaging with their drivers by providing clear guidance and instruction on ways in which they can reduce their risk of injury by driving in an appropriate manner for the conditions being encountered.

“This is especially important as we go into the winter where drivers will be encountering any number of challenges in terms of the UK's varying weather and road conditions.

“Secondly organisations within the South West need to ensure that business continuity is assured by developing plans to ensure alternative routes or methods of transport are available to ensure the on-going delivery of goods and services when major routes such as the M5 are closed.”

Meanwhile, the IAM is warning fleets to make sure their drivers are equipped for challenging driving conditions. “Fog is a dangerous condition for drivers to deal with and freezing fog is especially difficult,” said Caroline Holmes, communications officer at the IAM.

The IAM suggests that before drivers set off they should clean their windscreen and windows, and check all of their lights are working, including their fog lights.

Drivers should use dipped headlights and only use front and rear fog lights in fog where visibility is 100 metres or less. In addition, drivers should make sure they can stop within the distance they can see is clear in front of them.

“As visibility drops you therefore need to slow right down,” said Holmes. “Do not accelerate to get away from a vehicle which is following too closely – if somebody is too close slow down to increase your distance from the vehicle in front, and brake early and gently to warn the drivers behind you. At junctions wind the window down and listen for traffic, and be aware that fog varies in thickness.”

Britain’s worst road crashes

October 2008: Family of six killed in M6 crash

May 2007: Six people killed on the M25 when a rescue truck carrying a minibus collidedd with a lorry

July 2003: Seven people killed when a minibus collided with a car on the M56

November 1993: Crash on the M40 leaves 12 children dead

March 1991: Ten people killed in a 51-car pile-up on the M4

October 1987: Truck collided with stationary traffic on the M61, killing 12 people

October 1985: Coach collided with stationary traffic on the M6, killing 13 people

May 1975: Coach carrying pensioners came off bridge in North Yorkshire, killing 32 people in Britain’s worst road accident


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  • GordonEvans - 18/11/2011 12:48

    Our thoughts are with all those lost and left after the crashes, but we should allow the experts to assess the causes and solutions. In the M6 crash, if the fog was giving visibility of 30 feet, using Highway Code figures, anyone driving over 15mph couldn't stop in time with someone stopped in front of them. Manufacturers could take the lead here, with adaptive cruise controls stopping the vehicle. In the future, perhaps vehicles could develop so they send signals out if stopped so approaching cars could brake automatically. We should not rely on technology, but use it to improve safety. Why don't all cars have 2 rear fog lights - cost? Come on, let's all have better light clusters. 2 rear fog lights = twice as likely to be seen. We should not automatically blame speed for problems, more re-educate driving behaviour to adapt to the conditions. I consider turning large sections of lights off all over the UK potentially far more risky (how many animals might now stray onto unlit sections of motorways and A-roads?).

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