Documentary series centred on the A1. A dangerous breakdown in the fast lane spells double trouble for A1 traffic officers.
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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 they've got the road closed or...
-we don't know what 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, will start returning to normal.
A dangerous breakdown in the fast lane
spells double trouble for A1 traffic officers.
Is that driveable or not?
Can that drive?
Police smell danger on a routine roadside check.
We've searched the van. Inside,
there's some of this cannabis bush here.
We'll see what the lads have to say about this.
And the race to rescue commuters after a rush-hour pile-up.
Time's really of the essence today. We can't afford to hang around.
There are more than 2,000 accidents on the A1 every year,
and more than 160 of them occur on a ten-mile stretch
of the road near Newcastle.
It's rush hour on a Friday afternoon -
one of the busiest times of the week for bumps and shunts.
A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside
is battling to make his way to the scene of a three-vehicle pile-up.
Southbound on the A1, just at the MetroCentre now,
we're two, two and a half miles away from the incident.
We need to get there, make that nice and safe.
First reports suggest the accident has happened in the outside lane,
often the scene of the most serious collisions.
Time's really of the essence today.
We can't afford to hang around.
But with the accident causing virtual gridlock,
vital seconds are being lost.
AIR HORN BLASTS
We'll never push people,
or have a go at anybody for doing the wrong thing.
People generally try and help to get you through.
At the end of the day, if we don't get through,
they don't get home because they're still stuck behind.
At the scene, Alan soon discovers that two lanes are blocked...
Currently taking out lane two and three.
..with only a trickle of cars able to get through.
So, I've just given them an update on the radio there.
That now buys me that time to get down there,
find out what's going on,
and give people the help that they need.
Two white vans and a car have been badly damaged,
and the Fire Brigade are already at the scene.
You all right, guys?
It's looking like a typical rear-end shunt here on the A1.
Luckily, we're not looking at any serious injuries.
We're just actually working out a plan now to get that vehicle moved
and then deal with this collision off the A1
and get that backlog of traffic cleared.
But clearly, we need to make sure we can do that safely.
For van driver Keith Grazier, the crash came out of nowhere.
Basically, slammed their brakes on.
It was too quick to happen.
It was just too quick.
So I went into the back.
With its front end smashed, the Corsa is a write-off.
But fortunately, driver Gareth Edwards has got off lightly.
I'm all right. A few cuts and that. I'll be all right.
He travels up the A1 to Scotland twice a week,
from his home in Doncaster,
but it's the first time he's been involved in a crash himself.
I was travelling down here about 30, 40 feet behind that car in front.
He's basically slammed on.
I tried my best to stop, but basically I didn't have a chance.
I'm used to traffic and accidents,
I've just never been in one before today.
With no major injuries,
Alan's priority is to get the road reopened.
That's going to need a full lift, the van.
Yeah, back end's knackered. I've just had a look.
But his hopes of easing the Friday rush-hour congestion
quickly hit a snag.
A little bit of a situation.
We were hoping to reopen lane two.
Because of the proximity of the vehicles,
we need to protect my colleague here, who's recovering the vehicles.
We've actually also got a bit of oil which has developed in lane two.
So my colleagues from Highways England are actually going to get
some oil-dry on, brush it in.
While we've got this lane closed, try to get as much of this cleansed
so the road's nice and safe when we get it reopened.
It's taken around half an hour for Alan and his colleagues to clear
the crash and make the A1 safe again.
International language of the road.
As Alan heads north,
he soon sees from the tailbacks just how much the crash has affected
traffic along the road.
That collision couldn't have come at a worse time because this road
starts to build up anyway, round about this sort of time,
so potentially could be an unrecoverable situation.
Of course, now, if we get another incident south,
I've got to get through this.
This is where the local knowledge kicks in.
We may end up using some alternative routes.
Even though the A1's the quickest way to get around the region,
sometimes we've got to get off the A1
to get where we want to be quickly.
Keeping the A1 moving is a 24/7 job.
And it's not only accidents which can cause snarl-ups.
Every year, Highways England traffic officers deal with more than 4,000
breakdowns on the road.
But by far the most dangerous
is when a car comes to a stop in the outside lane.
Peter Senior and Scott Wilson are hurrying to a high-risk situation
on the A1 at Newcastle.
We're just currently turning at junction 74 to attend.
We should be on the scene in a few minutes. Over.
A car is stranded in the outside lane at the busiest time of day.
The driver's pregnant.
So, for the traffic officers, it's a grade-one priority case.
Whether we're able to move the vehicle or not, I don't know.
But due to the location, it may be worth getting CF travelling. Over.
The risk of a pile-up here is huge.
And with traffic on the other carriageway slowing to look,
there's also the possibility of a collision there, too.
If you get control of the traffic, I'll go and have a...word.
With lives in danger, Peter and Scott must act fast.
The priority has to be to get the stranded driver to safety.
Next, they must warn other drivers
in the hope of preventing a high-speed pile-up.
So, what's happening with this vehicle at the minute,
it's got total loss of power.
So we've got a recovery agent on the way.
Peter and Scott have done all they can to keep everyone safe,
but already the breakdown is becoming a dangerous distraction
to other road users.
And now this case has just got more serious.
As you can see, over the road, there's been an RTC.
Whether this is down to rubbernecking or what,
or someone being on the phone or anything, I don't know.
With us already dealing with a live lane over here,
we can't go over there and deal with it.
There's a high risk of serious injury
when crashing at such high speeds.
Scott's concerned about the drivers.
Excuse me. Do you need an ambulance?
No? You're all right? Is that driveable or not?
Can that drive?
That can, yeah?
The cars are badly damaged
but at least they can leave the A1 without assistance.
It means Scott and Peter can now focus on the original incident.
It's not uncommon that this happens because quite often we're busy
dealing with an incident on one carriageway,
people on the other side start trying to look across
to see what we're dealing with and, you know,
they lose that concentration.
And that's what can happen.
As the incident has been classed as a priority,
Peter and Scott have arranged for a recovery truck
to be sent to the scene as soon as possible.
At the moment, Scott's down by the initial part of the closure.
He's just watching the traffic.
The priority now is just get the truck on,
get the car away and the lady to a safe place.
A police car is now at the scene to assist with the safe reopening of
the lane. Meanwhile, the pregnant driver will be taken away
in the recovery vehicle.
What's happening now is the police are closing off lane three with
their vehicle, giving us protection to be able to remove our closure.
I'm just going to give my colleague a hand now to lift the gear in.
Half an hour after first arriving on the scene, the carriageway is clear.
And Peter and Scott can reopen the lane,
confident that their actions have helped a driver in peril in a case
that could have been a whole lot worse.
Unfortunately, as well, the young lady,
she decided just to sit in the car till help could arrive.
In a situation like that,
what people really need to do is get out of the vehicle and get behind
a safety barrier until help arrives.
It was just fortunate we were in the right place at the right time
to get to her quickly. It is a frightening experience,
someone being stuck in lane three of a carriageway.
Dealing with the unexpected is part of the daily life of the teams
that keep the A1 safe and moving.
Just a few miles up the road, PC Alan Keenleyside running
a routine check for drivers with no MOT or insurance.
Any passing him will be caught by his onboard camera,
triggering an alarm.
I'm just looking at a transit van.
A couple of cars up in the slow lane
and it's shown us the MOT expired on the vehicle.
I'll stop the driver, just have a quick word with him
and advise him of that.
That's handy. He's taken the off slip.
It's a job Alan has done countless times.
Morning, mate. Are you all right?
The reason I've stopped you, all right,
is I've just done a check on the radio and your vehicle is showing as
the MOT expired back in January.
Come jump in my car just for two seconds.
I'll do some checks. Just take the back seat in there.
I'll just have a quick word with you.
But, on this occasion,
Alan's instinct tells him today is going to be anything but routine.
Thought I caught a waft of cannabis before.
I've got a bit of a sniffer-dog type nose for that,
so I'm just going to have a word with this driver
and see what he's got to say.
New laws introduced two years ago
set a legal limit for the amount of drugs in a driver's system
and improved roadside tests mean cases
can now be investigated much more easily.
When I opened the door in the van, I got a waft of cannabis.
-Do you have any on you?
-No, it's not me.
Do you use cannabis at all or anything like that?
Occasionally, but not today.
Right. Not today. No use at all.
Having no MOT could be the least of this driver's problems.
Because I got a smell of it, all right, I'll give you a quick search.
But I'm also going to go through a roadside testing procedure.
-It'll take a few minutes just to quickly go through that.
Here's a question. What's your date of birth?
-You were born today?!
Many happy returns. How old are you?
-Thank you very much. 37.
Alan cautions the driver before delivering some unpalatable news.
So, you're now required to provide a specimen of saliva as I have
reasonable cause to suspect you of driving a motor vehicle
having a specified drug in your body.
-It's not particularly nice, all right.
You hold your tongue out. What we do is we just swab three times,
three or four times down onto those sensors there.
All right. Keep going.
Keep going. Keep going. That's it.
-Not a very nice job, is it?
Now we hold it flat and it can take somewhere in the region of about
eight minutes for that to come up. OK.
Just a bit of a waiting game on that one now.
While Alan has been interviewing the driver, his colleague,
PC Darren Lant, has been up ahead searching the van.
Is it your van, is it, or a company van?
All right. OK. Anything in the van you shouldn't have?
You've just got it this morning, have you?
Certainly look after their vehicle, don't they?
There's an experiment growing in that one, I think.
And the driver's nightmare start to his birthday looks like it's about
to get a whole lot worse.
We've searched the van.
Inside this bag of half-eaten stotties and sandwiches and...
..drinks cans, there was some of this cannabis bush here.
So we'll give this to Alan and take it from there and see what the lads
have got to say about it. It might mean that we have to take the van
away and get it checked over properly by a drugs dog.
Have you got a drugs bag in your car?
-I've got a bag.
-Get the bag, please.
With the driver's roadside drug test nearing its conclusion,
Alan has another discovery that's going to need some explaining.
Congestion on Britain's road network costs the economy an estimated
£13 billion a year.
While many motorists on the A1 point the finger at roadworks,
they actually account for only about 10% of annual delays.
Back on patrol, PC Darren Lant is cracking down on motorists
speeding through roadworks.
This little red Polo in front of me,
he's just decided to ignore the temporary speed limit.
As we come out of Morpeth there,
it's a temporary speed limit of 40mph for a reason.
This guy's just come hurtling through there, mid-50s,
completely ignoring it.
We'll have a stop with him, we'll have a quick chat.
I think he knows it's coming.
It's just after nine o'clock and rush hour should be over but it
appears this motorist's running a little late.
Hello, sir. How are you doing? All right? In a hurry?
You need to get to work. All right.
Come and have a chat with me
and I'll explain to you why I've stopped you.
Take the seat in the back on that side for me, please.
All right. Any ideas why I've stopped you?
But while the driver understands his speeding is why Darren's pulled
him over, he's still not convinced he's in the wrong.
It's what...? It's so pointless, is it?
I'm sure the people that are working in and around the area,
although they might not have been on the road at that particular time,
would disagree that it's not particularly pointless.
Do you want to watch the video of you going through or are you quite
-happy you were speeding?
-No, I know I was speeding.
-Do you know what speed you were doing?
It's not the first time Liam's
speeding has put him on the wrong side of the law.
You got a full licence, Liam, have you?
Any points or anything on it?
Yeah, three, I think.
What was that for? Speeding?
I had just passed, so I thought the average speed cameras...
I thought it was the average at each camera.
-I didn't realise...
-The average at each camera?
That's a new one. Was that a pointless speed limit as well?
No. You know what I mean.
The speed limits are there for a reason.
They're not pointless.
The way I propose to deal with it, Liam,
is to arrange for you to go on a speed awareness course.
All right? No points, no fine.
But, obviously, you've got to pay to go on the course. All right?
Speed awareness courses were introduced in the late 1980s
in the hope that educating offenders like Liam would lead to long-term
changes in their behaviour,
rather than just punishing them with points and fines.
I didn't see the police to start with.
Then I thought, "I'd better slow down here."
Then I saw him weaving a bit, trying to get my attention.
Then the lights came on.
I thought, "God, not again."
But, for Liam, who now faces
four hours of intensive road safety lessons,
slowing down for roadworks still seems to be a hard sell.
When there's no workers in the road and the cones are on the side of
the road and stuff, I don't know why the speed limit's 40.
40, I think, is a bit low for
no workers on the road, especially.
He had a very strange and quite worrying
point of view that the speed limit was pointless.
It's a dangerous point of view to have.
They're there for a reason.
So, yes, there might not be anybody working there but it's other stuff
that's going around that causes the distraction.
People get interested in what's happening over there
or they're looking at this and they're looking at that
and they're not concentrating on their drive.
Everything's done for safety.
People might not like it but it's there for their safety
as much as the contractors' safety.
More than 270 miles away, at the southern end
of the A1 in Hertfordshire, traffic officers Richard Jones
and Carl Hemingfield have been dispatched to a breakdown...
Start of a busy day.
..where the A1 meets the M25.
We're going to the A1 slip road
going on from Bignell's Corner.
We've got a broken-down vehicle.
Police are fending off behind.
We have been asked to assist them.
The early-morning rush hour is about to start,
so it has the potential to cause chaos.
Morning. Have you got an ETA for your unit?
My colleague called up a short time ago.
Sierra Echo 52 on the hailing channel.
We're at Bignell's Corner. We should be with you in about two minutes.
As they arrive at the junction, though...
INDISTINCT RADIO CHATTER
..Carl and Richard discover it isn't just one breakdown, but two.
That's the first, a van.
-We got his tow hook set up.
This is the one that was in lane three
that's just pulled over to the side.
OK, we're going to get somebody else.
If you guys can't, we'll have to call immediate recovery but...
OK. We've got another patrol. We'll ask for another patrol to come down.
-I'll check with Carl. Is there another one coming down?
-Cos we've got two vehicles here.
-This is the one at lane three.
-Do want me to ask them to keep running?
It seems the transit van came a stop first,
and while the police were blocking off the carriageway to deal with it,
a taxi broke down in the same spot.
Sir, can you just stand away from there? Thank you.
Can you come and stand behind the barrier for me
because you're in a place of safety there?
The taxi driver was heading for the M25
when his clutch suddenly stopped working.
I was going with the customers to London,
to one of the embassies in London,
and then from there to London Heathrow.
So, that's not a very good day.
No clutch, no gearbox.
So I can't go anywhere now.
I'm not going to earn money.
And just wait for recovery.
So it's not a very good day.
The first step is for Carl and Richard to tow the taxi
to a safer place.
Are the keys in the car?
Can I have the key, please?
Thank you. I'll find the nearest safest location, if it's a lay-by...
-I'll go with you wherever you're going.
We can pull anything up to an HGV,
so we pretty much can clear most things nowadays, in all fairness.
It's not long before Carl finds a lay-by in which to pull over,
but it's also ankle-deep in water.
Not the best place to stop.
No, I know. It's in the water, isn't it?
-Dearie me, it's flooded.
-Can you go down behind that...?
I don't think there's enough room, Richard.
My new polished shoes now look not so polished.
-That's all right!
Dave, the passenger in the taxi,
has an appointment at he South African embassy,
so he's desperate to get to London as quickly as possible.
I was just going to the African embassy to submit a visa application
and then flying back to Johannesburg.
I only flew back from Johannesburg yesterday just purely for this,
so it's not a very good day.
Carl and Richard do their best to help find them taxis
but, at this time of the morning, it's proving difficult.
This gentleman has broken down between South Mimms and Borehamwood.
You haven't got any cars at the moment?
OK. I'll get my gentleman to try and find somebody else.
Cheers, bye. He hasn't got any cars.
Eventually, duty calls, and Richard and Carl need to head off.
I suggest you stay out of the vehicle
rather than in it round here at the moment.
The further away from the motorway, the better.
OK then, sir. Good luck.
I hope you get your visa sorted out.
The danger on that closure was that it was quite near to the entry slip.
Cars were coming quite fast down the slip road to join the motorway.
It wasn't giving them much time to move across.
It was a busy scene.
I mean, to get two broken-down vehicles
in one closure was a tad unusual.
But that car was so close to the marginal strip, it was...
I could feel the cars going past as we were being towed.
The A1 is getting back to normal now but
as traffic often builds on one of its busiest stretches,
it won't be long before Richard and Carl are needed again.
Nearly five hours' drive up the road in Newcastle,
PC Alan Keenleyside's routine stop of a motorist for having no MOT
has turned into something more serious.
Drugs have been found in the cab of the van and the motorist
is suspected of driving while under the influence of cannabis.
That was found in the rubbish bag with the bottles and things.
OK. What's the craic with that?
I'll tell you now. I've not been smoking today, right.
-That's mine, OK.
Not exactly the crime of the century, having that.
All right. Certainly a personal amount. We'll deal with that. OK.
Meanwhile, the result of a roadside drugs test which Alan carried out
eight minutes ago...
We've waited the requisite amount of time.
..has proved positive.
So, you've got two lines for cannabis.
So, the preliminary drug test has tested positive for a specified drug
in your system. Therefore, I am arresting you
and taking you to Forth Banks police station.
Is there anything you want to say to that?
The new drug-driving laws cover eight illegal substances,
including cannabis and cocaine.
-There it is.
Do you want to speak to your dad?
But 11 prescription drugs, like morphine,
are also on the danger list.
A good little stop. Just from having no MOT,
we've recovered some drugs.
He's provided a specimen and there's one on the way to custody.
So, we're making the road safer all the time.
Just going to cuff you for transportation. All right?
Alan's roadside test has shown traces of banned drugs
in the van driver's body.
A full blood test will now be needed to establish just how much cannabis
is in his system.
It's like drink-driving now.
So, your blood will be sent away to the labs.
It gets examined and then we get a figure back as to how much cannabis
is in your blood and whether that's over the prescribed limit or not.
If it is, you'll go to court for that.
Cannabis stays in your system a lot longer than drink.
Do you know what I mean? Depending how much you've had,
it can stay in for days or weeks.
Just take a seat down there.
At the station, a sample of blood is taken for analysis
and the motorist's picture and fingerprints are recorded
while Alan begins to prepare his case.
I'm just packaging up the blood now.
I've actually filled in a bit of the circumstances surrounding the stop
and what's happened today. That just assists the lab.
I'll seal it up now, I'll log the time,
note the time on the paperwork and we'll pop that into the fridge.
And that'll be us good to go.
Since new laws on drug driving were passed just two years ago,
Alan and his colleagues on the A1
have massively stepped up the number of arrests.
Now we've got all this technology, we're probably getting as many
drug-driving as we are drink-driving.
And the likely consequences of which is a disqualification,
similar to drink-driving.
So, if this comes back positive, over the prescribed limit,
this gentleman will be looking for a day in court with a high likelihood
of a disqualification for around about 12 months.
This is going to have massive repercussions
onto this driver's life.
Potentially he's going to lose his job,
he's going to lose the ability to drive legally,
and, yeah. That joint last night to celebrate his birthday,
it's all gone catastrophically wrong for this chap.
For Alan, what started out as a routine stop has turned out to be
anything but. No A1 patrol can be taken for granted.
I think it's really important to emphasise that when we,
as police officers, certainly working the A1,
you never know what you're going to get. You just don't know.
You've got to go in with your guard up, high-risk.
You've got cars moving around you on the A1.
On that occasion, open the door, two lads in the van.
Just that scent of cannabis.
You just get that little whiff.
The alarm bells go.
A good result. Just goes to show somebody who doesn't appear to be
really doing anything wrong
is actually a real danger on the roads this morning.
We've been able to minimise that risk.
So really, really happy with that.
Blood tests on the motorist found to be driving while under the influence
of cannabis came back positive and he's still awaiting trial.
And, after being caught speeding in roadworks,
Liam has since completed his speed-awareness course.