Documentary series centred on the A1. Police are called to a major pile-up which threatens to close the road, and traffic examiners clamp down on dangerously overloaded vehicles.
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The A1 -
Britain's longest road.
Stretching almost 400 miles from the City of London
to the heart of the Scottish capital.
Connecting two nations and passing through 18 counties.
It's an unrivalled highway
used by hundreds of thousands of vehicles every day.
We're going southbound down the A1 on the northbound carriageway.
But not all journeys go to plan.
I thought, am I going to lose my life?
Cars are coming close.
It is the dangerous place to be.
Lives can hang in the balance.
The rear end of that vehicle, it's unrecognisable.
This is actually the bodywork of the car.
24 hours a day...
It's not a safe place here.
..there's a team of people who keep us safe from harm.
We don't know whether we've got the road closed, we don't know what's happening.
..and traffic officers.
Keeping Britain's most iconic road...
-..on the move.
Substantially damaged flatbed truck in lane two.
The A1, the monster that it is, it'll start to return to normal.
Coming up -
a pile-up on the carriageway...
Lanes one and two are blocked, so effectively the A1 North is shut.
..puts lives at risk.
Substantially damaged flatbed truck in lane two.
This is very dangerous. That could burst at any time.
..as officers clamp down on illegal vehicles.
As it stands, we cannot permit this vehicle to proceed on its journey.
And fires on the Tyne push police officers to the limit.
There's a lot of explosives within a car.
Really, really dangerous.
With hundreds of thousands of vehicles using the A1 every day,
keeping the only continuous road between Edinburgh and London moving
is a 24-hour operation.
And over in Sprotbrough, near Doncaster,
an early shift is just about to start.
It's just before 7am and traffic officers Paul Day and Rob Larkin
are heading out onto the A1.
Within minutes, there's a report of a crash near Pontefract,
11 miles north of their base.
Multiple vehicle RTC.
Vehicles are still in situ across the road.
Lanes one and two are blocked.
Yeah, lanes one and two are blocked, so effectively the A1 North is shut.
Priority at first attendance is, we make the scene safe,
we then check for people's injuries,
organise ambulances, etc, if needed
and then we deal with the trapped traffic
and anything else that's going on around us.
But the priority is to make the scene safe
and then open at least one lane as quickly as possible.
The crash involves a truck,
so there's a chance the victims could be seriously injured.
And with traffic still speeding past,
all the other motorists on the A1 are also in danger.
Looking at this traffic,
and just not seeing us behind trying to make us way.
Every second that passes,
the jam is getting longer
and this increases the risk of another pile-up.
-Right, so we just stop everybody here, get us a gap?
13, we've just stopped the traffic.
The traffic officers are the first on the scene.
They've no idea how badly injured the drivers are.
13, substantially damaged flatbed truck in lane two.
Bear with us, we'll see if we can move that,
once we find out if there's injuries, over. Is anybody injured?
I'm fine, I wasn't involved, but these guys...
Are you all right?
I think it's just from the air bag, it's nothing serious.
-Need an ambulance?
Right, is that your truck?
-Will it drive at all?
I'll come back to you, bear with.
These drivers have had an incredibly lucky escape.
-Anybody in this?
Yours? Any injuries?
Just my back is a little bit...
-Do you need an ambulance?
The next priority is to clear the scene
and to get the A1 moving again.
What we've got at the minute, is we've got traffic stopped
and you saw what it did in nine minutes.
Because we've got it fully stopped now,
it's not even making any progress at all.
So the importance is, get it safe, get it open as quickly as possible,
allow people past...
..which will not take long now.
But what Paul and Rob don't realise yet,
is that the stricken vehicle in lane two is a hybrid electric car,
which could still be live.
This incident is about to get a lot more challenging.
One of the most southerly sections of the A1 is where it intersects
the M25 in Hertfordshire.
Tens of thousands of vehicles travel on this stretch every single day.
But some simply aren't fit to be on the road.
In Hatfield, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency officer
John Windebank is on patrol and on the lookout
for unroadworthy vehicles causing danger to other road users.
Could be a vehicle that looks like it's heavy or in poor condition.
And it's not long before he spots a truck that could pose a serious risk
to other motorists.
It looks like a 3.5 tonne scaffold vehicle in lane two.
It could well be overweight, it all depends.
Overloading of vehicles is quite a common occurrence with us,
it's probably something that we come across every day.
If you are in that vehicle and you had to brake suddenly,
you are not going to stop so you will just plough into the person
in front of you. I mean, it's possible this vehicle may be OK,
but looking at it, it may well not be.
It's John's job to escort the vehicle into a weighbridge
at the side of the A1, where a team of his colleagues are waiting
-to take a closer look.
-What I need you to do first,
can you just reverse up and get the back wheels on the plate for us,
-Dangerously overloading a vehicle is a serious offence.
Last year, more than 70 people faced prosecution for this crime.
Right, if you stay there while I collect the weights...
While traffic examiner John Blide weighs the vehicle...
..his colleague Prem Kumar has concerns about the state of the truck.
What happened to the windscreen?
It was my first day, that was.
Put the radio on the dashboard and it did a little kick.
How long has it been like that?
Got a bit of trim hanging off here as well.
OK. Rear lamp cluster broken.
-Do you know when it was last serviced?
And Prem spots another reason why this vehicle is dangerously unroadworthy.
Found a defective tyre,
so defective that the side wall on the tyre has become damaged and it's
caused a bulge to appear.
That could burst at any time.
This is very dangerous.
As it stands,
we cannot permit this vehicle to proceed on its journey
in this condition, because there is an imminent danger
of this exploding. All right?
And that's not all, John has the results of the weigh-in.
OK, guys, you are a 3,500 kilo truck coming in at 5,600 kilos.
You are seriously overweight.
Just over two tonnes overweight.
It means the driver, or his boss, could be heading to court.
I am going to say to you, you do not have to say anything.
It may harm your defence if you fail to mention when questioned,
something you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.
The vehicle is unfit to go back on the road and will be immobilised.
It concerns me that people don't know the danger they put themselves
into, or other road users.
If we weren't doing these checks,
these vehicles would just be running around on the public highway.
The last thing we want is people killed.
And with many more vehicles still to check,
the team is in for a very busy shift.
The A1 passes through 15 different police forces,
more than any other road in the UK.
Police officers patrol night and day
to keep traffic moving and motorists safe.
In Northumbria, PC Alan Keenleyside has just received his latest call.
Alan never knows what he will be faced with -
from car fires, to criminal activity.
What we've got now is we've got a pursuit.
Alan is pursuing a driver who has failed to pull over
when asked to stop by the police.
He's ignored sirens and flashing blue lights.
When a car fails to stop, you've got to think there's a reason for that.
It could be a stolen car, it could be a disqualified driver.
The driver could be under the influence of drink or drugs.
So when you've got a vehicle
that fails to stop it's inherently dangerous.
The last report was going over this roundabout.
By the time Alan arrives,
the driver has been stopped by an unmarked police car.
He is now being questioned by police.
Just make sure everything's all right, that's all I'm going to do.
Alan gets an update from fellow traffic officer, PC Gary Morris,
who had also joined in the pursuit.
-Do you think he saw him?
-He was just hoping that if he just ignored him
he'd give up and leave him alone.
The driver in our car there is compliant.
So we'll just hang back here, Mick's dealing with him.
It's pointless going down there and aggravating a situation that doesn't
need to be aggravated.
Police discover the driver hasn't got any insurance
and doesn't even have a driving licence.
He's not passed a test, so he's not shown he's actually got the ability
to drive a car safely. If he's on a provisional licence,
he's obviously got to be displaying L plates and got to be accompanied
by a suitably qualified driver that is keeping him right on the road.
And obviously to do that, he's got to be insured as well.
If he was to have an accident with anybody, somebody else,
who's perhaps going to suffer an injury or damage
and they've got no recourse against the driver of this car.
By not stopping when he was asked to,
the driver made a dangerous situation worse
and he's now going home without his car.
So what's going to happen now, we've confirmed this vehicle
has no insurance. The driver of the vehicle
is a provisional licence holder, so the driver's been interviewed
and will be reported to court for those offences.
This vehicle will now be seized by us and when the driver
is able to produce the relevant documents,
he's got a licence and insurance for this vehicle,
the vehicle will be returned to him.
He's got to do that within seven working days.
If that doesn't happen, the vehicle will be disposed of
by means of crushing, or if it's over a certain value,
it'll go to auction and be auctioned off.
So a good little result and another vehicle off the road this morning.
Back on the southern edge of the A1 in Hatfield,
the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency team is still on the hunt
for dangerous vehicles.
Examiners have pulled up another van
they suspect may be carrying an excessive load.
This can be deadly, as stopping speeds are dramatically increased
when vehicles are overweight.
-How are you?
What's the name of the company you're working for?
-What's the name?
-It's on the side of the van.
Vehicle examiner Vicky Foster is keen to quiz the driver.
OK, if you can just park for me,
just in the lane next to this vehicle and then I'll be over to you
in a second.
As Vicky weighs the vehicle, driver Robert is worried about the outcome.
I put some stuff in this morning that's going to a scrap yard, so,
you know, a lot of it you can just take out and it will be underweight.
But then, you know,
the penalty is you can't do the job you're expected to do.
But it's not good news for Robert.
3.5 tonne light goods vehicle and it's come in over 4.5 tonne.
Unfortunately, you are 33.71% overweight and because of the amount
of the overweight, it's not a fixed penalty,
-it will be referred to court.
So I will be conducting an interview with you under caution.
Robert will now have to remove all the excess weight in his van
before he is allowed to drive any further.
It affects stopping distances, it affects the braking,
and the steering and handling of the vehicle.
It puts the general public...
Back on the A1, John Windebank is on patrol.
Part of the officer's job is to spot-check European lorries
to ensure their paperwork is all in order.
But now he's spotted a vehicle with markings he doesn't recognise.
I believe its Spanish.
It's quite a newish vehicle.
He decides to pull it over for Vicky and the team to have a closer look.
I'm just indicating to come off at the junction.
He's indicating, so he's totally compliant.
-Do you speak English?
-When did you come into the UK?
-Did you come ferry or train?
-Do you have your ticket?
I lose it, OK.
Although the truck passes as roadworthy...
..there are other concerns.
The maximum a goods driver can work is 56 hours in a week,
with regular breaks...
..so Vicky wants to check his tachograph.
I'm just looking at the driver's hours just to ensure they've had
enough daily rests, enough weekly rests.
The results don't look good.
At the moment we've got some infringements regarding weekly rest.
Driver has had two reduced weekly rests back-to-back
and has driven for seven days.
Driving when tired puts everyone at risk.
This trucker will receive an on-the-spot fine and be banned
from driving for 45 hours.
Penalty for you, £300.
Prohibition. No driving, 45 hours.
It's a very good result.
The drivers are now going to be rested
when they start driving again.
They won't be a risk to road safety
and are unlikely to cause any accidents on our roads.
It's obviously a huge danger to the general public, road safety.
If the driver is overtired, he hasn't had sufficient rest,
could fall asleep at the wheel and crash into oncoming traffic.
I certainly wouldn't want to be in the car in front of him
or any of my family either.
Pinpointing problems along this 400 mile-long road
is a relentless daily task for the teams that patrol it.
Now on a two-lane section of the A1 close to Newcastle
PC Alan Keenleyside is on his way to a reported car fire.
These calls are classified as Grade 1 emergencies.
It means there's an immediate risk to life.
Historically, with older cars, you used to get a lot of vehicle fires,
but certainly of late, the way the cars are nowadays,
vehicle fires are getting less and less.
Alan's first impressions at the scene are reassuring.
There's no smoke and his colleagues seem to have the situation under control.
-Is everything all right?
Good. We had a report that the car was smoking as well?
Oh, the clutch.
There's a real smell of burning coming from the car.
You can see the clutch pedal's completely gone,
so it looks like your clutch cable's snapped.
It will be a recovery from here, all right?
Agnes and her husband Robert have been to pick up their son's car.
He'd left it at work last night to go for a drink.
We picked it up for him as a favour
and we were just taking it to his home.
He's just sorry it was, you know, we were stuck with the problem.
Agnes had only been driving it for a few minutes
when it started losing power.
Luckily, her husband was following behind.
Just as I was driving along,
the car was making a very loud noise when I changed gear.
So I pulled in.
One of the options is, your good lady and you could jump
into your car, nip up to the shopping park here,
grab a coffee or something,
the RAC will give you a ring when they're a couple of minutes away
and you can meet them back here with the key.
Car fires used to be a common occurrence.
These days, though, they're rare.
Once upon a time, a car would catch fire reasonably easily, but now,
because of the way vehicles are built...
..the fuel cut-offs, the insulation,
the fire suppression systems in vehicles,
fires aren't as common as what they used to be.
A lot of people mistake vehicle defects for vehicle fires.
If the brakes are binding on a vehicle, if there's a collision,
the air bags go off.
People say the vehicle's on fire.
Actually, it could just be a mechanical defect.
I think everybody, when they see smoke,
they revert to worst-case scenario and shout vehicle fire.
But I would never blame people for that, that's a human reaction.
But ultimately, you've got to have an open mind when you respond
to these incidents.
But not every case turns into a false alarm.
It's 3pm and just as Alan is heading back to the station,
he finds himself in the middle of a real emergency.
Are you all right if this flows?
Are you all right if I keep this lane flowing?
-Are you happy with that?
The Fire Service were on the scene within minutes,
but Alan still doesn't know if anyone's been injured.
We've got complete closure,
northbound from Tealand Road at the minute.
Lane one southbound is passable.
Traffic is going to be very busy in this area now.
Just let the firm know, please.
Yes, yes, they are extinguishing the fire now.
They are in lane two southbound.
I don't actually know where the owners are around here.
It's a dangerous situation on a busy road.
The team need to extinguish this fire and find out what has happened
to the driver.
On the northbound stretch of the A1 near Pontefract,
Paul Day and Rob Larkin are still at the scene
of a multi-vehicle pile-up.
The road has been closed
and rush-hour traffic is now starting to build.
It's causing stop-start traffic further south,
which is a severe risk for other drivers.
Lot of debris, lot of mess,
so what we're doing,
clearing up as best we can, make the scene safe,
allowing traffic to run past in lane two.
That should be a good 'un, then.
Luckily, the damaged truck is still driveable.
By moving it out of the second lane,
there's a good chance it can be reopened soon.
Just going out of lane one closure,
cos we've got the stricken vehicles in lane one.
Once we've got this in place,
we can let this traffic go past in lane two.
Just waiting for Paul to finish sweeping up this debris
and then we should be good to go.
The A1 has been completely closed for about ten minutes,
causing huge tailbacks.
But thanks to Rob and Paul's swift response,
one lane can now be reopened.
Rob has some bad news that will mean a big delay to reopening the other lane.
I've just discovered that one of the vehicles is a hybrid vehicle.
When they're hybrid, we won't recover them cos there's a chance
the bodywork could be live,
so we leave it to the recovery agents to do that.
While they wait for the recovery truck,
Paul offers the drivers some advice.
If you can give your details to each party, if you saw it, for a witness,
job will be a good 'un from us and you can go then.
You two - have you exchanged details?
-No, not yet.
-If you can write name, address,
contact number down of the driver, or your company,
-but I need the driver's name and contact number, yeah?
The situation is made all the more dangerous
because of the exact spot where the accident has happened.
Just being on the viaduct, there's no hard shoulder.
There's no hard shoulder, there's nowhere for them to go.
So we just have to cone out behind it, like we have done,
and get traffic flowing past it in lane two.
Yes, it does cause a minor problem,
but it's nothing that we can't deal with.
Meanwhile, the delays mean the tailbacks keep on growing.
We've been here probably 40, 50 minutes.
We initially stopped traffic, which creates its own issues and backlog.
We've had an update that the impact of the traffic is back
at least two junctions, which takes it down to Doncaster Road.
That then is probably six miles.
It is flowing past,
but we've got quite a considerable amount of traffic backlog.
Both lanes now, because people are looking.
20 minutes later though, the recovery truck arrives to pick up
the hybrid. By now, the tailbacks are nearly five miles long.
I'm sure you've already noticed, mate,
but it's a hybrid so we don't know whether it's live or not.
-We'll leave it to you.
I'm going to try it at first,
to see if it's live. If it's not live,
we'll just leave it dead and just pull it on with slips.
It should, hopefully have a shutdown on it,
which will disable all systems.
So we'll take it from here, get stuck in and go for it,
get this motorway flowing as quick as we can.
With the hybrid safe, it can at last be taken away.
And finally, Rob and Paul can open the second lane and traffic
can begin to get to normal.
It's always important to get a lane opened as soon as possible
and then to clear it as soon as possible.
It does back up daily, but with us having one lane shut here as well,
that would have impacted on it quite significantly.
If it hadn't have been a hybrid,
we may well have been able to drag it off network,
just round the bend is a bit of a hard standing.
But with it being a hybrid, we couldn't touch it.
Three counties north in Tyne & Wear,
traffic officer PC Alan Keenleyside
is still dealing with a serious car fire.
The blaze has been going for 15 minutes.
Thankfully, the driver of the car, Jennifer Mountain,
has been unharmed in the incident.
Are you all right, first and foremost?
-That's the important thing.
That can be, well, I was going to say that can be fixed, it can't be.
But, it's insured.
What about recovery for this?
Do you want us to go ahead and get that organised for you?
Thanks to improved safety systems and better engineering,
car fires on this scale are rare.
But when they do happen, they can have devastating consequences.
The A1 is literally just over that roundabout there.
So as we've been on the A1, seen the big billowing smoke,
we've come off the A1,
only come about 100 metres. Fire Brigade were already in attendance
and they've very quickly got this fire under control.
It's really, really dangerous around a car fire.
There's a lot of explosives within a car.
You're talking the bits that hold the bonnet up,
the air bag firing mechanisms and the like.
Really, really dangerous.
When the fire started,
Jennifer was going to pick up her son from school.
-You come up the hill...?
they just stopped working so I put my hazards on
and then it set on fire, so I ran out.
All the best, we'll take care of your car and get it away.
As Jennifer heads off, Alan turns his attention
back to the clear up and the possible cause of the incident.
Right now, we need to get this lane reopened and get this traffic
flowing out of Newcastle as quickly as we possibly can.
The A1 is going to be affected as well,
so back to patrolling that
and making sure that's run as it needs to be.
Thankfully, the Tyne & Wear Fire Service got to the scene quickly
and managed to put out the flames,
but reopening the road won't be straightforward.
We are getting the car recovered, but even if the car's recovered,
we're not going to be in a position to open this road.
That's because all this metal has just melted in.
It's molten into the road surface.
This happens a lot at road traffic collisions where,
if you get a big collision,
we clear the accident but the road remains closed
because the local authorities sometimes have got
to dig the road up and re-lay it before it can be safely reopened.
That's still smoking, that.
It's still smouldering.
45 minutes later, a truck arrives to shift the burnt-out car
and council workmen can start clearing up the road.
Needs a new arrow.
You not got any white paint on you?
Much to the relief of the people trying to get home,
the road won't need completely resurfacing tonight,
meaning traffic can start flowing again.
We've had a look at it with the engineer and the road is ready to be
reopened, so, all this traffic backing up out of Newcastle
towards the A1, we can get that going again.
Right on rush hour now, 4:20pm on a Tuesday afternoon, so...
..let's go away and get these good people of Newcastle home.
With traffic moving once more, it's been an eventful end to the day.
But it could have been a whole lot worse.
That lady, thankfully, she didn't have the kids in the car with her.
There was just her as a driver, an adult driver.
She was able to get out straightaway and get herself safe.
She was on her way to pick the kids up from school,
so she has got a young family.
If that car had caught fire 10 or 15 minutes later,
it could have been two kids in the back-seat.
So you've got a car on fire, you've got to move the seats forward,
you've got to get people out the back-seat.
Horrendously difficult to do, so she's been lucky.
Further investigations revealed the car fire in Tyne & Wear
started after a major electrical fault.
The uninsured driver's car was later scrapped.
The motorist received eight points on his licence
and was fined more than £1,250, including costs.
And the driver of the overloaded truck was interviewed under caution
and is due before magistrates.