Documentary series centred on the A1. A serious smash on a junction leaves the driver's life hanging in the balance, and will treacherous weather hamper an emergency road repair?
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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
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?"
The cars are coming close, it is a dangerous place to be.
Lives can hang in the balance.
The rear end of that vehicle is 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 they've got the road closed, or what's happened.
..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 will start to return to normal.
Coming up, a serious smash on a busy A1 junction...
Paramedics are indicating a possible serious head injury,
we are going to have to drag this vehicle clear of the barrier.
..leaves the driver's life hanging in the balance.
Ready to move when you want.
Will treacherous weather hamper an emergency road repair?
As you can see, the mist is coming in quite quickly.
We could have low fog on the carriageway.
And the driver racing through roadworks.
She's doing 70mph in a 40,
it's a risk to you, to me, to every other road user.
There are over 45 million drivers licensed to travel on the UK's
road network. And, despite improvements in car safety,
there are still over 180,000 people injured in accidents every year.
And the A1 sees more than its fair share, with over 2,000 annually.
It's rush hour on a Friday afternoon north of Newcastle.
A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside
is responding to the latest emergency.
There was a two-vehicle accident on the A1.
It's actually junction 80, as we go off the A1 on the roundabout,
and people have requested an ambulance.
It means there could be serious injuries.
We're starting to get our collisions now, 4.10pm in the afternoon.
We just hope that this one here is not going to prove too problematic
when we get to it.
The reports are that the collision we are attending
is just up on this bridge here.
Just making our way round the roundabout.
Can we see any collisions? Can we see any collisions?
There they are.
Alan's one of the first on the scene.
HE TALKS ON RADIO
A car has ploughed into the central reservation
and the driver is still in her seat.
Hi there, you all right?
An emergency care assistant who was passing the scene has pulled over
-I'm just in training at the minute.
Non-responsive, I think she's gone into shock. She has a pain down the right-hand side.
-I told the Ambulance Service...
The ambulance can't get here soon enough.
There is a crew just coming on the right there, might be us.
But it's battling to make its way through rush-hour traffic.
There's an emergency care assistant from the Ambulance Service,
she's saying the lady is unresponsive.
Certainly appears to be breathing
but the crew is arriving on scene now.
Hello, you all right? The driver of the Renault here,
there's an emergency care assistant on the scene.
She appears to have gone into shock, passed out.
If the driver is seriously injured,
she'll need urgent medical attention.
Open your eyes, sweetheart.
And the first signs aren't good.
OK, you're in safe hands.
I can get the fire brigade coming.
And there's another serious problem.
The driver's side door is wedged up against the central reservation.
It means the ambulance crew are struggling to gain access to the car.
Can you talk to us yet?
Without medical attention,
the driver's condition could deteriorate rapidly.
We're thinking the lady's got a potentially serious head injury.
We're now going to actually use our police vehicles
to pull the vehicle around,
whilst trying to support the lady as well,
that will give access to the paramedics
to get a quick extraction out of the vehicle.
Rescuing the driver from her car quickly and safely is a job that is
going to push Alan and the rest of the team to the limit.
Like every part of Britain's 250,000 mile-long road network,
the A1 takes a lot of maintenance...
..and it contributes to the 2.2 million potholes which are filled in
on roads across England and Wales each year.
That's one every 15 seconds.
On Britain's longest road,
they're a constant headache for maintenance crews.
With traffic passing close by, it can be a difficult job.
And for road users, it can lead to delays while repairs are made.
So when some large potholes need filling on a busy stretch of the A1
near Stevenage, it's time to call in reinforcements.
Traffic patrol officers Steve Francis and Rob Taylor get the call
to set up a rolling road block to hold back traffic
while workers fill in the potholes.
They've got one pothole on the slip road at junction seven,
and they've got another secondary one on the main carriageway,
so what we're going to try and do is to do both in one rolling road block.
They both know how dangerous holes in the carriageway can be.
The main concern is the motorbikes, obviously,
cos it only takes one wheel for the rider to come off
and injure themselves, and it can even cause a fatal accident.
So it is quite a dangerous concern.
In these conditions, the cold gets under the damaged tarmac,
so you might have a little crack or a one-inch hole initially,
and within a couple of hours you could have
a 12-inch by four-inch hole
and they are the ones that cause the most damage.
With motorists travelling at up to 70mph,
it's vital these latest potholes are filled in to prevent any accidents.
But to do that, Rob and Steve will have to close the road.
We've just come through the Hatfield Tunnel,
I've asked signs and signals to be set, ready for the rolling roadblocks.
But the traffic officers will have to deal with a big problem.
As you can see ahead, the mist is coming in quite quickly.
If it starts rolling in any more than it is at the moment,
we could have low fog on the carriageway.
I am doing a small weave,
for the cars behind to realise something is happening.
And you'll see that they're actually slowing down.
So we are going to bring the traffic to a stop here.
Steve explains the situation to stationary motorists, held up behind.
We have two potholes ahead, one on the slip road,
one on the main carriageway, pretty bad ones.
We're repairing them at the moment.
With traffic building quickly,
there's pressure to get the job done,
but now it's bigger than they first thought.
They found a second pothole on there,
so they've just done two instead of one.
And they've got a third one to do now. Hopefully won't be long.
With two potholes quickly filled,
Rob and Steve slowly pull the traffic forward
to the next repair site.
But a motorcyclist has broken away too soon.
The guy on the motorbike, I told him,
go up the slip when I take him up the slip, but as you can see...
And the funny thing about that is,
you often find it is motorbikes that do that.
They're the ones we're protecting because of the holes,
you can see the repair.
If he went up there at speed, he would have come off the bike.
Drivers in the backed-up traffic are getting impatient,
but just nine minutes after the traffic was halted...
People are in a hurry but I think for the sake of a couple of minutes,
it'll save the tyres and save the cars,
save the motorbikes.
..the third and final pothole is filled.
-OK, you happy?
-That's it, lads.
Time to get the traffic moving again.
Got to build the speed up.
I tend to liken it to a motor race,
where you might get a collision on a motor race,
and then the safety car will come out.
The way to see it would be a bit like that.
I'd say three to four minutes per pothole, which is very good.
I would've thought that's quite a minor inconvenience, considering
what could have occurred if we had not filled it.
More than 250 miles north, near Newcastle,
A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside is at the scene
of a serious collision between two cars on a busy roundabout.
-Hi, there, you all right?
-It's believed one of the drivers may be
in a critical condition.
Got a lady who's unresponsive in the driver's seat of this vehicle.
Certainly appears to be breathing, but the crew is arriving on scene now.
Her car has been wedged up against the central reservation,
making it impossible for the ambulance crew to get to her.
Open your eyes, sweetheart.
The driver needs urgent treatment.
I'll start jacking the car up.
Alan must now move the car, so the team can get inside the vehicle.
We're not hanging around,
we're now using our police vehicles to pull the vehicle around
while trying to support the lady as well.
That will give access to the paramedics
to get a quick extraction out of the vehicle.
So time is a little bit of the essence now.
Thankfully, Highways England traffic officers are also
arriving at the scene to help manage the rush-hour congestion.
Hello, you all right? Got a lady with a potentially serious head injury.
Could you just take this lane out for two minutes?
-Alan has to work quickly.
The driver has blown a pupil,
a sign of a potentially serious head injury.
Paramedics at Seaton Burn
are indicating a possible serious head injury.
We're going to have to drag this vehicle clear of the Armco barrier
to get this lady out of the vehicle.
Could you just make 27-92 aware?
Ready to move when you want.
Alan needs to be extremely careful.
They're going to have to support her neck when we do this.
Any sudden movement could make the driver's injuries even worse.
Even though the traffic has only been stopped a few seconds,
it's already caused a serious build-up of vehicles.
Finally, though, the medics can get to the injured driver.
But they now believe her injuries are potentially so serious...
..they need to bring her out of the back of the car on a spinal board.
-Just relax, that's fabulous.
-You're doing marvellous.
Can you talk to us yet?
A spinal board is used to reduce the movement of an injured person.
It's essential in preventing critical injuries from getting worse.
Which way do you want to do this?
Try and get under her arm and then it will be a case of one, two three...
And get her right up the board.
If you can get her C-spine first, I can do the first push-up.
-Ready, steady, slide.
Ready, steady, slide.
A tiny bit more.
Ready, steady, slide.
This is an extremely delicate job.
One wrong move could have very serious consequences.
OK, you're in safe hands.
But the medics will only know the full extent of the driver's injuries
once she's been released from the vehicle.
But it's not only accidents when rescue teams come to the help
of stranded motorists on the A1.
Every year, teams from Highways England and Transport Scotland
deal with more than 4,500 breakdowns.
Just six miles south down the A1 near Newcastle,
traffic officers Peter Senior and Scott Wilson are responding
to an emergency call.
Apparently, up at junction 77,
they've got a vehicle broken down in a running lane,
and they want us to go and offer some form of protection
while they recover it.
It means their planned meal break will just have to wait.
We just went to order a nice takeaway, and then, right on cue,
-a job comes in, but...
-Every time, isn't it?
It does. It happens every time. It's unbelievable.
You can have a shift where you do nothing...
As soon as you go and order hot food,
you can guarantee a job will come in.
But if ever you've got a shift
and you get a bit bored if there's nothing to do,
that's all you've got to do to get some work going - order some food.
When Peter and Scott arrive at the scene,
it's clear the van is parked in a dangerous position...
Hotel Alpha Charlie Lima.
..just metres from the main carriageway.
It's a van with a small trailer on the back.
We're just approaching that now, so we'll advise shortly, over.
What's the matter with it?
This section of the A1 is so busy
that Highways England offer free recovery
so vehicles can be moved off the carriageway as quickly as possible.
I was just driving along the A1, and the gearbox went.
Just lost all drive, so I just pulled in to the side of the road.
But a breakdown truck needs to get here quickly.
See if we do it under the free recovery,
if they've got a wagon just about here, we'll let them move it.
Peter has an idea to speed things up.
I'm just wondering - if we can get a hitch on the front,
if you stay behind to protect us,
we could drag it off at the next junction.
Has the gearbox locked up, or is it freewheeling?
-No, it's free, it's...
-Well, rather than getting recovered,
because when recovery comes, we'd basically have to close
the whole lane off to get you recovered...
-..maybe we could just drag you off at the next junction,
and position you somewhere there, which would be better for recovery.
-Yeah, I'll follow behind so there's no worry for when you're going into traffic.
-Yeah, if you sit behind us.
-Yeah, yeah. Do you want to do that?
-Yeah, that's fine.
With other vehicles passing the broken-down truck at 70mph,
a collision could be fatal.
We'll get off at the Washington Services quicker than getting on the radio, so...
-So where are we going to go to, mate, cos I don't know where...
-Off at the next junction.
The recovery's due in half an hour,
so we're just going to tow it off network.
The police are going to sit behind us and escort us, some protection,
and we'll just tow it off ourselves.
Its gearbox has failed.
It is still freewheeling, though,
which enables us to be able to clear it from the carriageway,
and then they can just await their own recovery.
Right, we'll get it hitched up.
Every year, nearly 250 people are killed or injured on the hard shoulder,
so it's important Peter and Scott move the vehicle as soon as possible.
Right, take the bite up, Scott.
Starting to take it off the floor. Go on.
Are you all right?
With a police escort behind...
-..Scott carefully pulls the van to an emergency recovery area
away from the main carriageway.
Keep it as far back as you can, for his recovery to get in.
What is it? A bit soft?
-Charlie 81 following.
4-1, we've carriageway-cleared this vehicle into an ERA.
The area you can see, where the little bollards are pulled in,
it's known as an emergency recovery area,
where the ground's reinforced on the verge,
so that's going to be safe to leave here,
and they can get their onward recovery from here.
-Good job, that.
Less than 20 minutes after arriving at the scene,
Peter and Scott are back on the road.
Anything which is in a running lane, there is always that element of risk.
So by moving that vehicle as we did into that emergency lay-by,
you know, you've eliminated that risk.
And the lads have built up quite an appetite.
If someone needs us, then we'll go...
I know, but their needs can't be as great as the needs of us getting fed.
Have you seen the time, man? It's after seven o'clock.
We did ask them to keep it hot for us, so hopefully they have.
In a recent survey,
nearly half of all drivers admitted to flouting traffic laws...
..either through inattention or simply because they think they can
get away with it. So it's not surprising that,
for the 15 forces that police the A1,
there is no such thing as a quiet shift.
Near Morpeth in Northumberland, PC Darren Lant is on patrol,
when a passing Citroen Saxo catches his attention.
Vehicle check, please. A1 southbound at Hebron.
-It's come back as a red Citroen Saxo. No reports present.
While Darren is running some checks, the car disappears from view.
Interesting. It looks like it's took off.
Yeah, it's gone.
Keen to catch up, Darren puts on his lights to move through the traffic.
But he's going to have to put his foot down.
Despite a 40mph speed limit because of roadworks,
this driver isn't slowing down.
At 70mph on a 40...
He's doing nearly 70mph in a 40mph limit.
That's through the roadworks, where you've got guys trying to do repairs
and maintenance on the road.
Clearly down to 40, and he's just blew them.
He's gone straight through them, and he's stayed at 70mph through the 40.
It's really dangerous, and it's reduced speed for a safety reason.
You know, still, working on the side of the road at 40mph is still frightening.
But when you've got vehicles that are blatantly ignoring the speed limit,
they're just taking off down at 70mph, it's horrendous.
And the driver seems oblivious to Darren behind.
How has he not seen the patrol car behind him?
Every time he moves out into a lane,
you would think he would check his mirror.
But he's clearly not, cos he would see us.
This guy was - he was going to move out,
but he's looked in his mirror and decided not to.
Time for Darren to pull the motorist over.
We'll get them stopped and see what they've got to say.
-Hello, how are you doing?
-Do you have your driving documents,
licence, insurance, that sort of stuff?
-Not on us, mate.
Grab your keys. Come and have a chat with me and I'll explain to you why I've stopped you.
Take a seat in the back, on that side.
-The reason why I've stopped you is cos you're speeding.
I thought it was a 70 on a dual carriageway.
It is, yeah, ordinarily.
But what about all them cones and all them speed-restriction signs
that you saw when you passed the speed camera,
when it takes you down from the national speed limit of 60
on the single carriageway to 50 to 40?
And you just continued all the way through he 40s at about 70mph.
Did I? Right.
-I've followed you all the way through, even when you were changing lanes.
-Which tends to suggest
-you weren't using your mirror, either, when you were changing lanes.
-I did, I did use my mirror.
-I was. I even turned my head...
-..to check that nowt was coming.
So how did you not see the big, massive patrol car behind you?
-Well, I did see you.
-And you still drove at 70mph in a 40?
I still... I seen you.
OK. I've got to caution you. You don't have to say anything thing, but it may harm your defence if you
don't mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court, and anything you do say
-may be given in evidence. All right?
-You're not under arrest.
Because she was 30mph over the speed limit,
Darren can't issue a ticket -
the woman will have to go to court.
-So I'm just going to do a couple of checks. Have you got a full licence?
-You have, have you?
And things are about to get worse for this speeding driver.
-When I said, "Have you got a full licence," and you said, "Aye?"
-You're lying, aren't you?
-You've got a revoked licence.
-I haven't got a revoked licence.
-You have, man.
-How have I got it revoked?
-I'll tell you...
-Cos the DVLA have said your licence is revoked.
Aye, on medical reasons, right,
and they've sent us a letter saying to send it back,
which is exactly what I did,
so technically I've got a licence when that's gone back to get, like,
-to pay the fee to get it un-thingied.
-So I've got a licence.
So have you got proof now, here, that the DVLA have said you can drive?
Not on us.
Well, the DVLA still say that you've got a revoked licence,
-and I've got to go off what the computer says.
-Right. Fair play.
So your car is going to be seized from you today, under section 165,
until such time as you can prove that you do have a licence...
-..and that you've got insurance for the vehicle.
The woman's car will be towed away.
Is there anyone that can come give us a hand
with this 165 on the A1?
So Darren arranges for another patrol car to collect the driver
and her passenger to get them to their destination.
The driver will have seven days to prove her licence was valid to get
her car back, and she still faces court for the speeding offence.
She's got a blatant disregard for any road users anyway, hasn't she?
She's doing 70mph in a 40, through roadworks,
where she's not paying any attention.
She said she's looking in her mirror, and moving in and out,
but the patrol car's following her.
I'm behind her all the way.
She's made no attempt to alter her driving.
She's driving on a revoked licence, so a risk to you, to me,
to every other road user.
More than ten miles south, Darren's colleague is still dealing with
a major emergency on a busy A1 junction near Newcastle.
PC Alan Keenleyside is helping paramedics to remove
an injured motorist from her crashed car.
The driver may have a serious head injury,
and any sudden movement could have devastating consequences.
A little bit more. Ready, steady, slide.
Inch by inch...
-One, two, three.
..the injured driver is rescued from the wreckage.
Shall I sit on the back of the car?
OK. Thank you for your help with this.
She's rushed to the ambulance,
where she can receive urgent medical attention.
For Alan and the police team,
it's time to investigate the cause of the collision.
We think vehicle one has maybe come out from here with a view to going
straight over, so it's been a typical lane to roundabout type collision.
-However, this vehicle's come to rest post-impact
up against the Armco barrier with the driver's door.
With the scene here, what we'll do is we'll mark and photograph the
post-impact position of the vehicles, get them recovered,
and then conduct our investigation from there.
Alan's seen something which could provide crucial evidence.
I've just pointed out, actually, up there we've got a camera.
It's one of the Highways England cameras, which cover the A19.
So that could be really, really key in our, erm, in our investigation.
The CCTV camera captured how the car careered into the barrier,
just moments after the crash.
As the investigation continues...
OK, we've got an exit into lane two of the A19.
..there is still only one lane open on the roundabout.
It means the rush-hour traffic is backing up in all directions.
This is a junction of the A1 and the A19, two major routes,
and the effect that it has on the A1, it will slow vehicles coming,
like, exiting the A1.
It'll form tailbacks along those exit slip roads.
Clearly there's a lot of emergency services here.
Unfortunately we can't really help that. It's the nature of what we're dealing with.
And as the darkness falls...
Paramedics have been treating the lady in the ambulance for some time now,
which tends to suggest they have a significant amount of work to do
to stabilise her.
As the ambulance takes the injured driver to hospital,
there is no doubt the trainee care assistant has played a crucial part
in rescuing her safely.
Well, I just was driving past, and I seen loads of people out of the car, so I thought they were all right
until then I seen the lady in the driver's seat of this car.
She looked unconscious, so I thought I'd pull over and get out and help.
I was literally on my way to my parents' log cabin for the weekend,
with a hot tub. So that's where I'm heading now.
-And a bottle of fizz?
Definitely a bottle of fizz.
Nearly two hours after the initial incident,
the recovery vehicle can finally take away the wreckage...
..and Alan can start fully reopening the road to traffic.
I'm a little bit concerned about this lady, if the truth be known.
It's being treated as life-threatening at this moment in time,
hence the roads being closed for a couple of hours to facilitating
her care, which takes precedence over everything.
I know it's horrible, because people are hurting and people are in pain,
but we can't get emotionally attached to what those people are
going through, so, yeah,
it's a bit of a sobering moment, knowing that somebody's potentially
very, very seriously injured indeed.
The driver injured in the roundabout crash was treated in hospital
for a week but has since made a good recovery.
The motorist stopped near roadworks was given a six-month driving ban,
six points and fines totalling £415
after being found guilty of speeding and driving without a licence.