Surviving Motorway Delays

You may have noticed that in recent years, after a serious accident on the motorway, instead of opening it as a priority, the police have closed the road completely for several hours, treating the site as a crime scene. It is interesting to note this change was undertaken by the police without any debate, notice or even discussion with the people. However, that is another story.

People have also been trapped on motorways for long periods due to other reasons such as the weather or other incidents beyond their control, animals on the road etc. Nowadays, drivers need to be ready for delays on any journey, long or short.

Here are ten tips to help you make sure you are ready for a delay, and well equipped if the delay is for several hours.

Understand The Problem

1. Motorways Have To Close

There will always be accidents, and motorways will have to close to allow the emergency services to deal with them. Legislation also requires the police to carry out a full examination if someone dies or if there’s the possibility of a fatality. Ice, snow and floods close motorways too.

2. Delays Are Inevitable

Usually there are contingency plans for diverting traffic around a closed motorway. However, it won’t be a three lane, almost junction-free dual carriageway, and it won’t be free of local traffic. It will have the speed limits, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings we expect to find off the motorway network too. This will cause delays – both to those on the motorway and those in the local area. If bad weather closes a motorway it will close local roads too.

Some traffic will be caught between the last junction and the incident – it’s not easy to turn these people round and get them off the motorway.

3. Long Journey, Short Journey

If you use motorways for short, local journeys you can be caught in a delay too. And if a nearby motorway is closed traffic havoc can result for miles around. It’s advisable always to consider how a possible delay could affect you, your passengers and anyone you may be picking up en route too.

Be prepared.

4. Too Hot, Too Cold

Long winter delays leave many people literally freezing, while being trapped on a motorway in high summer can lead to dehydration. Basic preparation – making sure there is a coat in the car (perhaps a blanket or an emergency blanket) and making sure you carry some water – can make delays more bearable. Think about what you’re wearing, too.

Running the engine can provide heat (via the heater), but also uses fuel. The best compromise is to run the engine for 10 minutes in every hour. Make sure the exhaust is not blocked, particularly by snow. If it is gasses can build up inside the car.

5. Keeping In Touch

Don’t forget to take your mobile phone – make sure it’s charged or that you have a charger or car lead. If you’re meeting someone (especially to give them a lift) make sure they have a phone and that you exchange numbers.

6. Individual Problems

People in your car may need medicines or treatments. Make sure you carry them with you on any journey.

7. Check The Road And The Weather

There are many websites and telephone services that tell you about road and weather conditions – use them before you go. Variable message signs on motorways provide important information too and can allow you to change your route to avoid congestion.

 8. Build Yourself An Emergency Kit

  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Torch
  • Warm clothes and a blanket
  • A pair of boots
  • First-aid kit
  • Battery jump leads
  • A shovel if it’s likely to snow
  • Food and a warm drink in a flask for particularly cold weather, water for hot weather
  • Either an empty wide mouthed bottle or a purpose-made device such as the ‘Unisex Uriwell’ in case you need to go for a pee.

9. When You Are Held Up Stay With The Car

It’s tempting to leave the car in the queue and head for local facilities, especially if they can be seen from the motorway. Queues can end as fast as they form though, and if your car is left blocking the motorway you could be in trouble.

At night and in bad weather avoid leaving the car and heading for distant lights. They could be further than they appear and whoever lives there may not welcome strangers. You could also have difficulties finding your way back to the car.

10. Expect The Worst

Remember that you could be stuck for some time. Keep something in reserve. Monitor the situation by using the radio, and use your mobile phone to make sure someone knows where you are.

The Automobile Association

The Association believes that although highway authorities are well geared for bad weather and other emergencies, there is some scope for further improvements.

The organisation is calling for measures to improve the situation:

  1. A review of decision-making process to close motorways after accidents. Traffic management should be a consideration.
  2. Speeding up procedures to remove crashed vehicles.
  3. More technology to speed up forensic tests and accident investigation.
  4. Variable Message Signs at junctions to warn of closure ahead (to avoid drivers joining a closed motorway).
  5. Alternative routes signalled in advance.
  6. Traffic on closed motorway to be diverted via central reservation onto other carriageway or turned around.
  7. Emergency provisions and more information for those stuck – water, blankets to be provided.
  8. Highways Agency radio to be available on AM and not just digital radio.
  9. Ensure major diversion routes are adequately signed (ideally permanently through use of the “dots and diamond” system).
  10. Give drivers who are stuck as much information as possible as to roughly how long the hold up will last. Variable message signs, traffic radio or traffic officers with loud hailers can do this.
  11. Make greater efforts to close motorway access points quickly to prevent people joining a ‘motorway going nowhere’.
  12. Pursue even better liaison between local, national highway operations staff and the emergency services.

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