Documentary series centred on the A1. Traffic officers race to get a stranded fuel tanker away from rush-hour traffic, and an illegal motorist is caught red handed.
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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 I'm 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 or...
We don't know what's happened.
..and traffic officers.
Better keep going.
Keeping Britain's most iconic road...
..on the move.
Substantially damaged flatbed truck in lane two.
The A1, the monster that it is, will start to return to normal.
A race to get a stranded fuel tanker...
..away from rush-hour traffic.
We've got 41,000 litres of diesel and petrol.
There's a danger if someone obviously impacted with him.
Police catch a vehicle travelling nearly 30mph
over the speed limit.
And an illegal motorist is caught red-handed.
It's showing you haven't got a driving licence.
Did I have one?
Erm, let's see.
As one of Britain's biggest motorways,
the A1 carries hundreds of thousands of vehicles every day.
And one of the busiest times of the week for crashes
is the evening rush hour on a Friday.
In places like Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire,
where three lanes drop into two,
problems can occur as commuters head home for the weekend.
Yeah, all received. We're making our way as best we can through traffic.
It's 7:40pm and traffic officers Paul Day and Matt Gibson
are hurrying to the scene of a crash.
So, we've got reports of a two-vehicle RTC,
one vehicle's stuck in the outside lane with a small child in it.
About eight years old, I think.
It's more that there's a young child in it and they've stayed
in the car that's slightly worrying.
Because who would want to stay in a live running lane
if they didn't have to be?
There's a real risk of casualties,
so it's vital Paul and Matt get there quickly.
But traffic's blocking their way.
The traffic's stationary on approach.
We're going to use the hard shoulder.
We're on the hard shoulder, running up to the incident now.
Look for the policeman.
We need to clear some debris, anyway.
The vehicle's badly damaged, but, thankfully,
the couple and their eight-year-old daughter are safe.
They've had a lucky escape.
We were travelling in the fast lane, heading northbound.
A car in the inside lane came into the car into the middle lane,
which then swerved into me.
The car that's caused it has driven off, erm,
and the guy in the middle lane has obviously held his hands up
to say that he's hit me.
Their smashed-up vehicle is still blocking the outside lane.
With the tailback up to five miles long and growing,
shifting the pick-up is now their top priority.
If you can hand-stop traffic, then we can do it without traffic
running past us, clear this vehicle, over.
Moving stricken vehicles can be tricky,
and they need to close the road.
There's quite a lot of damage to it, so what we've done is stop traffic.
I'm just looking for a suitable place to try and get hold of it,
to drag it.
They are designed to smash up, yeah.
You just have to get the best place you can get.
Hook it up, and...
..drag it off.
But the hundreds of cars in the jam are still stuck.
The road can't be reopened until the remaining debris is gone, too.
Grab a brush.
Are you all right?
-Are you happy?
-Yeah, I'm happy, yeah.
Right, he's happy with it, Matt.
So, what we did there, we just made sure we were all clear
on the carriageway before we let cars go...
..which we've done now.
Hotel Alpha Charlie Lima 13.
The block is free.
Normal talk-through can resume. Thank you to everybody else.
Seven minutes after arriving,
Paul and Matt have made sure commuters are moving again.
But for driver Russell and his family,
who have travelled up the A1 from their home in Ipswich,
a bad day looks like it's getting a whole lot worse.
I don't know how we're going to get home.
The insurance company has said that they'll only recover us ten miles
and we're obviously 200 miles away from home.
It's not what we were hoping for.
But, thanks to the police and traffic officers,
the family are safe and are being ferried to a warm hotel.
And with their pick-up finally recovered,
it's a job well done for Paul and Matt.
Job's a good 'un. Everybody's gone home safe.
Little bit of damage, but that can be, er...
But keeping Britain's longest road moving is a constant battle
and it's not just accidents which bring the A1 grinding to a halt.
In any one week, mile after mile of the carriageway is subject
to temporary speed limits because of roadworks.
We all get frustrated by being caught up in them,
but these A1 drivers simply think that the rules don't apply to them,
and behaviour like this has dangerous consequences.
Especially for the people on the other side of the cones.
Since 2005, 16 men and women have lost their lives working on
England's major roads and over 500 have been seriously injured.
On the A1 near Morpeth in Northumberland,
police are cracking down on the problem.
Today, PC Darren Lant is monitoring vehicles as they pass through roadworks.
I've just parked up on the on-slip here to the A1.
There's a lot of roadworks going on and we're getting a lot
of complaints from the staff,
the roadwork staff that are trying to improve the area,
of vehicles not sticking to the temporary speed limit,
and causing a danger to those roadwork lads.
First, Darren wants to gauge how bad the problem is.
All I do is just point and shoot.
And it's not long before he gets some disturbing readings
in this 40mph zone.
Here we go. There's a couple coming down now.
Outside lane, white one.
30 seconds of checking, there's been about five vehicles who have gone
through between 55 and 61mph.
So, now that I know there is a problem, I'll start looking to
enforce it and we'll have a word with some of the drivers.
The white Citroen.
That's a massive 28mph over the limit.
Darren must be careful.
He is keen to stop the driver, but doesn't want to risk a chase
that could endanger other motorists.
68mph in a 40mph limit.
Do a check on it, see where it's from, see if there's anything on it.
Vehicle check, please. White Citroen.
Yes, yes, thank you.
Lives local, probably travels the road quite a lot.
With the checks done, Darren starts to pull the driver over.
I always give them a pre-warning that I'm going to stop them
and give them a little bit of a flash of the blue light,
let them know that's what's coming.
They can make a nice, safe stop in the lay-by here, which is good.
Hello, sir. How are you? Can I have a chat with you in the car,
about two seconds, please?
I'm going to caution you. You don't have to say anything,
but it may harm your defence if you do not answer, when questioned,
something you may rely on later in court and anything you do say may be given in evidence.
You're not under arrest, that's just something that I've got to say to you. OK?
It was actually 68mph.
Is there any reason as to why you're doing 68mph in a 40 limit?
OK. The way I proposed to deal with it is by issuing you
with an endorsable fixed-penalty notice.
It does carry three points on your licence.
Although, when they catch drivers speeding,
police have some discretion in the way they deal with each case,
on this occasion, the motorist was going so fast,
Darren immediately gives him a ticket.
That gentleman wasn't offered a place on a speed awareness course
because he was travelling 28mph over the posted speed limit.
It's 40mph. They know that, and doing 68 in a 40,
it's just unacceptable.
What we've got here on the A1,
we've got a lot of roadworks going on, so there's a lot of hazards,
a lot of people on the road, so it's really unsafe for them to be
on the road when you've got vehicles travelling at high speed.
What we're doing is, we're just making sure people are sticking
to the speed limits, but it's not all about coming out and getting
as many speeding tickets as we can.
You know, we're not... That's not the be-all and end-all
of being a traffic cop.
Speeding motorists will be one of Darren's priorities for the rest
of his shift, and he's sure this one won't be his last.
Just over 20 miles away,
one of the road-laying teams he's trying to protect are racing
to finish their latest job.
And they've got a revolutionary machine to help them,
with Darren Housman manning the controls.
When I saw the size of it, it was like, "Oh, God!" at first, but,
yeah, really excited and, you know, ready to roll with it and get going.
With hundreds of thousands of vehicles pounding the road every day,
this huge, 52-tonne resurfacing machine is part of a small army
which ensures the A1's 400 miles of tarmac is kept safe for drivers.
What makes this revolutionary machine so special
is that the road it's ripping up at the front is immediately being
recycled and relayed at the back.
When there's a lot of people about,
you've sort of got a lot to think about and a lot to, sort of, watch.
You've got the elevator, the boys at the back of it,
and those at the front of the machine.
It can be a bit nervous at times, but once you get on,
you get over it.
Today, Darren and his team are tackling a 1.25-mile section,
and expect to complete the job three times faster
than by using traditional methods.
And overseeing the operation is Steve Bishop.
This system has a number of benefits.
The amount of waste that is going to landfill is down 70%.
The amount of imported new stone that we need, new blacktop,
is down 75%, so massive savings there.
And then, also, as far as our workforce is concerned,
49% fewer man-hours to do the job,
so we've got less exposure for our workforce to what is, admittedly,
a not particularly nice place to have to work -
the side of a fast dual carriageway.
Recycling the original road stones and re-laying them
with added bitumen in a much cooler system in one go means they can lay
1,000 tonnes of road a day instead of just 350.
This means they can relay both lanes anyone in a 1.25-mile section
of road in just two and a half weeks.
We're not in the business of disrupting drivers to make
their lives rotten, but we do have a legal duty to maintain the road,
and make sure it's safe for people.
So, when we need to go in, we go in, but what we'd like to do is go in,
hit it hard, hit it quick and get out of the way,
so people can get back to their business.
With the road taking a pounding 24/7,
it's no wonder that around 50 miles of the A1
need to be replaced every year
and all that means Darren and his monster machine are going to be
kept busy for a good while yet.
If you don't mind, I'm going to have to crack on,
cos we've got another K to do today, so we want to be up and at it.
More than 300 miles away,
at the southern end of the A1 in Hertfordshire,
the evening rush hour is often the busiest time for the teams
who keep it safe.
Traffic officers Rob Taylor and Steve Francis are in the middle
of their shift and they've just spotted a vehicle on a roundabout
off the main carriageway.
Hotel Alpha Sierra Lima 52.
A 40-foot articulated tanker has stopped
and is causing a serious obstruction in fast-moving traffic.
Yeah, we've just come up against a petrol tanker,
junction nine on the roundabout over the A1(M).
We're just going to go round and see what the situation is.
Clutch or brake?
Yeah, I'm getting a smell. Is it clutch or brake?
-No, it's brakes on the back.
-Brakes. They're locked on, are they?
-Yeah, got an air leak, just caused the brakes to lock on.
We're coming round the roundabout and see some smoke coming off
the back axle, so we thought it wise to pull over.
On inspection, we've got an air leak
and it's caused the brakes to lock on.
But the biggest problem is the contents of the tanker.
On this load, we've got 41,000 litres of split load
between diesel and petrol.
There's a real danger that the overheated brakes could catch fire.
And with the tanker full of fuel and traffic passing close by,
Rob fears the worst.
If the brakes locked on, they can be known to be getting very, very hot.
You don't want hot brakes with a petrol tanker.
We've got to be super-cautious with it.
It means that Rob must get a recovery vehicle out
as quickly as possible.
I'll need to know who's coming out,
-find out an ETA, so we know how long it's going to be there.
But it's not looking good.
Recovery's said to be 60-90 minutes.
I've tried to urge them to try and see if we can get it quicker.
It's not good. Usually, when this happens, it always happens
in the wrong location.
And there's already been a near miss before Rob and Steve arrived.
Apparently, they've put their two hazard triangles out,
one's already been hit by somebody, amazingly, so...
You couldn't make it up.
To make the area safe,
Steve must put a cordon around the truck as quickly as possible,
which will take out an entire lane.
But the danger's not over yet.
The main problem is now that everyone's going home at the moment,
and these guys will enter the slip at speed.
So, of course, only when they come halfway round the roundabout,
they'll realise that there is actually something in lane one.
We've got three lanes of traffic coming onto the roundabout
and then two lanes have to decide where they're going
once they see the vehicle.
So, the two lanes have to merge into one, and, as you can see here,
this is where the problem arises.
With traffic jockeying for position just a few feet
from the stricken tanker,
the driver's words aren't filling Rob with confidence.
When they actually go up in flames, they burn for about eight hours.
The fire engines don't bother putting them out,
they just let them burn and protect everything around them,
cos you can't put it out.
But even as the traffic lessens, the problems grow.
It is... Honestly, it's frustrating to watch, because sometimes
you can see something happening before it even happens.
And when you see there are people not paying attention,
you can, you know, predict something might happen.
After the tanker has been stranded
on the roundabout for an hour and a half,
finally a mechanic arrives to try and fix the vehicle's brakes.
I think the air press is obviously dropped on one wheel.
If I can hear it's got an air leak, then I can blank it off
and the brakes will release.
With the tanker's brakes released...
Good, that's good. That should have everything covered.
..and the cones removed,
Rob and Steve can escort the vehicle to a lay-by,
where proper repairs can be carried out.
It's not had too much of an impact, I'm glad to say,
but with tankers, you can never be too careful with them.
Nice to meet you, guys.
I didn't want it going up in smoke. If that's got that hot,
the last thing you want to do is be moving it unnecessarily,
but it is cooled down and if the fitter's happy, then we're happy.
If it gets the motorway open or the road open, we're even happier.
So, the A1 is clear for now.
But with this stretch being a major route in and out of the capital,
it won't be long before the South Mimms Traffic Team
will be needed again.
Four hours' journey away in Northumberland
is a very different stretch of the A1
where accidents can often happen.
PC Darren Lant has a laser speed gun and is watching
for drivers exceeding the limit as the road passes Morpeth.
One of his most frequent stops is a man in a van,
which is usually white.
SPEED GUN BEEPS
And Darren's spotted one he thinks is travelling too fast.
White van. We might get the white van.
77. We'll have a chat with him.
77mph is over the limit for any vehicle on the A1.
But on this stretch, the rules are different for cars
than they are for small goods vehicles like this one.
Some drivers of Transit-style vehicles, they forget,
or they're unaware, that the speed limit for that vehicle,
for that type of vehicle on a dual carriageway,
is only 60mph and not 70.
So, what I'll do is, as soon as I find a safe place,
I'll stop the driver and see why he was travelling at 17mph
over the speed limit for that type of vehicle.
The problem is that... Certainly for the smaller goods vehicles,
drivers either just decide they're going to travel above the limit
or they just don't know the more weight that it's got to stop,
the increased stopping distance, the harder it is to stop
one of those vehicles. You can't just stop them.
This gentleman knew... Yeah, he knew.
He's been sitting, waiting for me.
Good morning, sir. How are we doing? Any idea why I've stopped you?
-Going a bit too fast.
-You were going a bit too fast, weren't you?
Switch it off, come and have a chat with me for two seconds
and we'll take it from there.
Delivery driver Sam uses the A1 regularly.
And by breaking the speed limit, he's not only risking an accident,
he's also risking his job.
The reason why I've stopped you, Sam, as you quite rightly said,
you were going a bit too fast on the dual carriageway there
as you were coming up the hill, all right?
What's the speed limit for your van?
70? Yeah, OK.
What makes you think that?
That van, on a dual carriageway, it's only 60mph.
And you're doing 77.
If you thought it was 70, you're still speeding.
Yes, it's only 7mph,
but it's another 7mph faster, that's affecting your speed,
your braking distance, your stopping distance,
-all those sort of things.
It's not a massive amount over, but, nevertheless, it's still over.
Police will take into account driving history
when deciding how to deal with a speeding offence.
-Have you been on a speed awareness course?
It'll cost you, OK?
You don't get the point, you don't get the fine.
So, unless you've got any other questions, you're free to go.
Basically, I was just coming down the hill, I thought...
I know I was going a little bit faster than I should have been.
I think they could make the signage better.
Put a sign up with different types of vehicles
and tell you your speed limits.
Obviously, now I know it's a 60mph limit,
so I'll keep it to the limit that I know now.
Sam drives off to finish his deliveries.
He will need to complete a speed awareness course in the next six months.
I think the trouble is, people pick up the Highway Code
when they're doing their driving lessons
and become very knowledgeable of it before that test.
Once they're successful and pass that test,
that Highway Code gets put on the shelf and gets forgotten about
and it's never read again. So, I'm in favour of, every now and then,
people should maybe have a look at it and just refresh themselves.
I know all the speed limits for whatever vehicle I'm driving,
so there's no reason why you shouldn't.
Around 15 miles away in Newcastle, temperatures have plummeted.
And Darren's colleague, PC Alan Keenleyside, is bracing himself
for a busy shift patrolling the road.
When the alarm goes off and you open them curtains,
it's a white frost or there's ice or snow, you think,
unless it clears, unless it gets warmer,
it's going to be a busy day.
Out on the A1, it's not long before he spots an incident.
We've come up behind a broken-down wagon,
which is getting its tyre fixed.
I'm just going to make sure he's all right, doesn't need a hand.
Are you all right, mate? Just seeing if you need a hand, that's all.
-Thanks, all sorted.
-Is it nearside or offside?
But Alan suddenly catches sight of another vehicle on the carriageway.
And immediately gives chase.
Just as we were getting back in the vehicle there,
I heard a car go past
and when you work on the A1,
you become aware of the sounds of vehicles travelling past you.
And this vehicle didn't sound right.
The contact of the tyres sounded wrong.
When I looked at the tyre, it was really far down, underinflated.
I think it was the back left tyre.
If you brake heavily, or have to react in an emergency,
your vehicle behaves differently.
When you're travelling at 70mph, it's really, really dangerous.
I want you in the slip road, mate.
-Hello, how are you?
I was just at a broken-down HGV.
When you went past, I heard a sound coming from your vehicle, all right?
When I had a look, your back tyre's actually really underinflated.
-Are you aware of that or not?
-No, not today.
It possibly is.
It's well down, like, you know?
So if I go like that...
There's nothing in, and it's certainly severe enough
for me to say to you, you need to leave the A1.
Into that petrol station,
get some air into it and then at least monitor it.
-But you need to know about that.
It's a real safety issue, especially on these roads.
-Right, we'll come off to the garage.
-And get some air in.
I just need to get the driver's details,
-just check him out on the system.
But the routine check brings up some surprising results.
Yes, yes, all received here, thanks.
It appears that the driver potentially has an issue
with regards to his driving licence,
so I'm going to have to make some enquiries,
but with straightforward words of advice,
"You need some air in your tyre,"
as quite often is the case, I've got to say, is potentially...
Excuse the pun, giving the weather,
snowballing into something a little bit more.
Right, can I have a quick word?
-Just in my car, if that's all right.
What's occurring, all right - I've just done some checks on you.
You were disqualified in 2014-2015.
-I believe I was, yes.
-It's shown that your...
-With no insurance and stuff like that.
That was it. It's shown that you haven't got a driving licence.
It's saying that your licence has expired.
It expired substantive.
I wouldn't have thought it would have been expired. Did I...?
Erm... Let's see...
If you've been disqualified,
-you need to apply for a new licence before you can drive.
Essentially, until you've done that, after you've been disqualified,
you can't drive.
I've had no notification saying that I had to reapply for my license.
-I thought I was stopped from that time...
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
-when that time was over, I could start again.
With the driver's passenger also unable to drive,
it leaves Alan with little choice about what to do with the vehicle.
And now he has to interview the driver under caution.
The vehicle needs to be seized.
-All right? I'm going to caution you.
You don't have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you don't mention now
something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.
There's no doubt in my mind that
that driver will receive a summons in the post to attend court.
The Road Traffic Act's there to be followed.
If you drive a car or a van, or a wagon,
you've got to make sure you've got the licence and insurance to do it,
and if you don't, you're going to have to take those consequences.
People are driving around without insurance, without driving licences.
All it takes is you get a little puncture, policeman sees it,
policeman stops you, and all of a sudden, that's it, you're...
You're captured. There's no getting away from it.
Nice guy, but...
driving without a licence on the A1.
The driver caught with no licence received three points on his record
and had to pay almost £200 in costs.
The delivery driver caught speeding
failed to attend his speed awareness course
and faces prosecution.
Traffic officers race to get a stranded fuel tanker away from rush-hour traffic. Police catch a vehicle travelling nearly thirty miles per hour over the speed limit, and an illegal motorist is caught red handed.