Documentary series centred on the A1. A crash causes rush hour chaos on the Great North Road, and traffic inspectors launch a crackdown on distracted lorry drivers.
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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 a 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 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 to return to normal.
Coming up, a horrific crash,
-with devastating consequences.
-You get one chance at life.
And it's a really, really precious thing.
The race to rescue drivers... HE WHISTLES
..caught in a four-car collision.
One three. All vehicles cleared of the lane two now.
And the lorries putting lives at risk.
This is a fuel tank.
The cap's missing and somebody's just put a plastic bag in.
From the heart of London,
the A1 stretches nearly 400 miles north,
through rural Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, past the industrial
heartlands of Leeds and Newcastle,
before finally ending in the city of Edinburgh.
On the section just north of Newcastle,
evening rush hour traffic is starting to build.
A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside
has stopped to investigate a heavy goods vehicle with Spanish plates.
It's pulled over on the side of the road and is causing
a dangerous obstruction.
-No, no. Two minutes.
This is not a place to stop.
-No, I go.
-Let me see your chart.
The driver's tachograph reveals that she's reached the maximum
number of driving hours allowed before taking a break.
You've been driving all day.
You should have stopped one, two miles up the road.
But as Alan advises the driver about her rest break,
another HGV pulls up.
And the driver's eager to talk to Alan.
All right, boss. No worries. Cheers, buddy. Thank you.
And another driver has also seen the accident.
A pile-up in rush hour traffic is serious.
Alan needs to get there quickly.
To be perfectly honest,
it's now quarter past five on a Monday afternoon.
Couldn't happen at a worse time.
Multi-car crashes often result in casualties,
but Alan's hoping for the best.
The ideal scenario is when we get here is nobody's seriously injured,
the vehicles aren't particularly badly damaged,
we can get everything moved.
The level of injury at the scene isn't confirmed at the minute.
But ambulances have been asked for.
It's these people going about their business,
probably coming home from work,
to see their families and their loved ones,
and all of a sudden, they've left work,
they don't think they're going to be involved in something big like this.
There's a car in a tree, down the ditch.
This is really, really key in people's lives.
These are life-changing events.
When Alan arrives at the scene,
it's clear that he's dealing with a major accident.
We've got a car over there with some serious damage.
Got a Land Rover here.
And two vehicles, three vehicles here, so quite a sizeable scene.
With several injured motorists,
vehicles and debris everywhere, and rush hour traffic thundering
past, this job will push Alan to the limit.
This is just one of more than 320 serious accidents that happen
on the A1 every year.
And it's the job of traffic officers,
as well as the police, to deal with them.
In Doncaster, two are about to head out on the early shift.
It's 6:30am and Paul Day and Rob Larkin will be patrolling one
of the busiest sections of the road.
Turn them all on. All off.
And it's not long before they have a major collision to deal with.
-'Just hearing about a few problems on the A1.
'Looks like we could have accident involving at least
'a couple of vehicles on the southbound side,
'it's now slowing to queue there, so looks like we could have a problem.'
What we've got reports of is a multi-vehicle crash,
so we're heading south to attend it.
Four cars have piled into each other and, with rush hour traffic
hurtling towards them at 70mph,
Paul and Rob know the stranded road users are in danger.
We'll stop traffic, we'll see if anybody's injured,
make sure everybody's OK.
We try and get everything back to normal as quickly as possible,
-but as safely as possible as well.
-There you go.
Is it there?
Yeah, lane two's blocked.
Even though the accident has only just happened,
traffic is already starting to build.
One three, lane two's currently blocked. At the location given.
Paul and Rob need to get back down the other carriageway quickly,
but the northbound section is also virtually at a standstill.
Look at that traffic.
Fortunately, help is at hand. SIREN
That should make it a little bit easier for us.
What's good here is police attending gives forward traffic
a way of moving out of the way.
Cos they've got blue lights and sirens.
-Within a few minutes, Rob and Paul are on the scene.
-We're here now.
You want to stop everybody from that blue wagon?
The damaged vehicles are blocking a whole lane.
And the drivers are stood perilously in the middle of the road.
HE WHISTLES With traffic still flowing past,
they're in serious danger of being knocked down.
I've got traffic stopped with code six. Police on scene.
Having removed the vehicles safely from the carriageway...
One three, all vehicles cleared of the lane two now.
..Paul and Rob can reopen one of the lanes.
A lane one close is better than a lane two.
So that's what we've done, is put a lane one out.
Now he needs to make sure the drivers are OK.
-How are you?
-Shaking like a leaf, to be honest.
Are you? You're all right. Can you tell us what happened?
Right, so, big queue of cars in front of me.
They all sort of suddenly stopped. I've managed to stop.
But then just felt this car come straight into the back of me.
Um, and then, it was almost instant, bang, bang, bang.
Everything happened all at once.
-I felt it.
Shaking a bit. Are you all right? Are you warm enough?
-I'm all right, yeah.
-You sure? Got a coat in your car?
-I'm fine, honest.
Even with just one lane closed,
the usual A1 traffic flow is halved and tailbacks are building fast.
It's vital that Rob and Paul get the drivers and their damaged
vehicles safely off the hard shoulder and open the whole
carriageway as quickly as possible.
I bet this is going back at least ten mile, this traffic.
This could take all day to clear.
The pressure is on.
Can Paul and Rob get hundreds of vehicles moving
before traffic is delayed for hours to come?
More than 100 miles north at Gosforth in Newcastle,
rush hour traffic has also been brought to virtual standstill.
A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside is still dealing
with a multiple crash in the outside lane.
-So, he's coming at speed. He's hit that one.
-Which has then connected with either that one or that one.
His priority is to get the injured driver seen to,
now that the ambulance has arrived.
The paramedics are seeing to the driver of the vehicle that's
taken the biggest hit of them all really.
I think the driver is going to be suffering typically of
I always err quite rightly on the side of caution,
so we're going to put a neck collar on him and I imagine that
driver will be going off to hospital to be properly looked at.
The rear end of that vehicle, it's unrecognisable.
The lady driving the Land Rover has been fortunate to have
But she witnessed the whole thing.
Footage taken from her dashcam captured the terrifying
moment of impact...
..when congestion turned into a multicar collision.
I was driving along, traffic was slowing down,
I'm slowing down with the traffic. And then, it was a silver car,
and then it smashed into the front of me.
And then, next thing, that car ended up in the ditch.
It was as if something off like a Hollywood film.
Just chuck a car into the mix.
The positive thing is I'm walking away, I'm OK.
It's a car. I can replace the car. My baby wasn't in the car, luckily.
Or that could have been very bad for my little boy.
-With the injured drivers receiving treatment...
-Come on, come on. OK.
..the officers now need to get
the road reopened as quickly as possible.
We've got a clear front end impact
with what we call vehicle number one.
Cos that's the vehicle that we're looking at as potentially
being responsible. But over there, we've got vehicle number two,
which has taken a heavy impact.
OK, would you like to follow over?
Although police are trying to keep traffic moving,
there's still dangerous wreckage strewn across the road.
If we leave a bit of debris,
a motorbike or car could see that debris,
especially at night-time with the headlights, and they could actually
swerve to avoid that debris, which could result in another collision.
So we need to make sure when we clean the road that it's
-But there's another problem.
The crashed vehicles have also spilled fluid all over the
-It's mainly water,
but there's a little bit of engine oil in it as well.
It means that Alan has to hold up the whole of the southbound
section, so that absorbent material can quickly be laid on the road.
It'll only take about two or three minutes,
so we need to get that absorbed to make the carriageway safe, so
things like motorbikes don't slide on the road, that type of thing.
The only thing left to do is to safely remove the wrecked
vehicles from the side of the road.
What you see on the back of the car there, that's all energy.
That's probably 60 to 70mph's worth of energy.
Now, Alan is able to review the footage from the dashcam
for the first time.
That Micra's taken a really sizeable collision there.
The gentleman's got his lights on.
The gentleman's brake lights are all correctly working,
The roads are a cruel place.
We hear stories from all over the country of a family in
a car doing nothing wrong, sitting in traffic, and all of a sudden,
there's children and adults tragically killed in a split second.
And when you see things like this, it does hit it home. It really does.
Because you get one chance at life and it's a really,
really precious thing.
The A1 is one of Britain's key routes for lorries
More than 80 miles away, near Wetherby,
an operation is under way to identify HGVs that present a danger
to other road users.
Lorries are responsible for one in five deaths or injuries in
accidents on the A1 each year.
So the stakes are high.
Faults like dodgy brakes or worn tyres on any vehicle are
a hazard, but on a 40-tonne truck, the results can be terrifying.
Parked up on the A1 is senior traffic inspector Paul Berryman.
Victor two in position. Northbound.
It's his job to spot suspect trucks.
It's hard to actually tell you what I'm looking for.
It's something that you...
It's an instinct you get over a period of time.
It's something just doesn't look right on the road.
If it looks a little heavy, if it's not being driven right.
And it's not long before Paul sees something that warrants
a closer look.
I'm just going to get that tanker there. That Belgian tanker.
Paul needs to overtake the lorry so he can signal him to pull over.
So I'll just get in front of him.
But he knows we want him now cos he's slowing right down.
The other thing I've got to watch is as I pull off the motorway,
if he doesn't feel like following me, he'll just continue straight on
up, which is an offence, of course, and he can be prosecuted for that.
And Paul leads him to a weighbridge site, just off the motorway, where
the team from the Driver And Vehicle Standards Agency are running
How are you?
I'm just giving it a quick look round,
recording the registration number.
Just make sure he's got all his necessary markings and
there's nothing hanging off
and everything looks secure.
With 30,000 litres of Belgian chocolate on board,
the driver's heading for York. For now though,
he'll be the one taking a break while Paul checks his paperwork.
Meanwhile, another lorry that was brought in earlier is getting
its mechanical once-over.
And it doesn't take examiner Steve White long to find
a serious problem.
This is a fuel tank but obviously the cap's missing.
Somebody's just put a plastic bag in.
Obviously, that's going to result in immediate prohibition,
so the vehicle can't be going any further with that defect on it
until it's been rectified.
With only a plastic bag stopping hundreds of litres of fuel
from spilling all over the A1, it could be lethal.
Even the smallest patch of diesel can be dangerous to motorists.
So, until it's fixed,
Romanian driver Sorin and his truck full of clothing
won't be going anywhere.
You need to phone your boss and get him to send a fuel cap.
While Sorin makes his call, Steve moves on to the Belgian chocolate
tanker and spots a fault with one of the tyres.
I'll just show you this defect.
-You've got some damage on a tyre.
It's not down to the wires or structure,
so at this moment in time, it's just advisory.
You just need to keep an eye on it, that's all.
With advice given and his paperwork all in order,
the driver and his delicious haul are on their way.
But things aren't quite so sweet for driver Sorin.
That'll be about 15 miles away.
About 20 miles... 15/20 miles away.
It is possible but you need to get to Volvo.
How are you going to get there? Taxi?
Sorin's day isn't getting any better.
First came the fixed penalty fine and now he's facing
a 30-mile round trip in a taxi to try and get a fuel cap.
Will he ever get back on the road?
Just over 20 miles south near Doncaster,
traffic officers are grappling with another big challenge.
After a multi-car pile-up, Paul Day and Rob Larkin are still battling to
keep stranded motorists out of harm's way.
Vehicles cleared of the lane two now.
Having closed both lanes whilst damaged vehicles were removed
from the carriageway,
they've now reopened one of them to ease the traffic.
Around 50 people are killed or seriously injured on Britain's
hard shoulders every year, so Paul's priority is the drivers' safety.
What we do now is keep an eye on people because of the
tendency to wander about without a view for any safety.
So that's what I'm doing at the minute is keeping an eye on
people who are in cars.
We don't want anybody getting further injured.
Like, there's a bloke I'm going to move now cos he's stood
on the outside of that car.
The danger is somebody not seeing this lane closure and coming
in to him.
They'd just take him out. He's just not looking behind him at anything.
To ensure everyone's safe,
Paul needs to get the drivers and their vehicles off the carriageway.
Watch yourselves, boys!
But only two of the cars are roadworthy.
The others will have to be recovered.
That'll just save it coming off in the road then.
Instead of leaving these two vehicles here,
what we're planning to do is get the police to escort the Fiesta
off to the next exit, so he can get recovered from there.
With the white Fiesta safely chaperoned off,
there's just the grey BMW left to shift.
But it won't start.
There's nothing there.
So Rob and Paul will have to push it off the road.
Right, we're going down this hard shoulder and the first little
yard, we're going in there, all right?
But weighing in at around 1.5 tonnes, this isn't going to be easy.
It's a German BMW, great engineering,
they make them out of solid steel. It's really, really hard to push.
I hope he's had his porridge this morning.
No need for a workout today. Luckily, the car is facing downhill.
That's better. I've got grip.
Job's a good 'un.
Minutes later, a recovery truck arrives to pick up the grey BMW.
Finally, Rob and Paul can now start to get both lanes fully reopened.
Everybody's cleared the live lane, so we can open this lane.
We're trying to get it open as quick as we can.
It's taken nearly an hour and a half to clear the smash and the
effects on this two-lane stretch will be long lasting.
If it was normal motorway,
it'd clear a lot quicker cos you've got three lanes.
It can handle more volume.
But with it being two lanes, it'll take forever.
Unless traffic eases, it can take all day
and especially if something else happens, it compounds it.
You can have knock-on effects all the way down.
-That can be pretty much everyday job, can't it, on here?
-You could get one of them every day.
Every day, every shift.
It's because of the amount of traffic that uses this road.
-And people drive too close to each other.
-Too close, too fast.
Thankfully, Paul and Rob's swift actions have ensured that
this incident has ended without anyone getting hurt.
Back up the road near Wetherby,
keeping A1 road users safe is also a top priority for another team.
Inspectors from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency
are continuing their operation to stop and check lorries
to ensure they're roadworthy.
Earlier, this wagon was found to have a serious fault
by enforcement vehicle examiner Steve White.
The fuel cap is missing and a plastic bag is the only thing
stopping a lethal spill.
Driver Sorin has gone to find a replacement cap,
but with no sign of his return, Steve has to take action.
We're going to immobilise the vehicle now.
He's had an hour from issuing the probation notice.
Obviously, the vehicle's still got the defect on,
so it gets immobilised.
And with the front wheel locked, this lorry really is going nowhere.
Fellow Inspector Paul Berryman is back on the A1 and pulling in
another truck for inspection.
Hello, we're just going to do a quick control. Is that OK?
Steve checks the truck for mechanical faults and gives
it the all-clear.
But Paul is suspicious about the tachograph
which records the driver's hours, speed and distance.
Well, the indication is that there's some sort of interference
but it's not solid enough to give any, sort of, evidence or proof.
We would need a bit more to go on.
The truck has done over 1 million kilometres,
so Paul would expect to see about 50 small mechanical faults
recorded in that time.
Things like a flat battery, but there's nothing.
That's the first time I've ever come across a printout like that
with no faults on in ten years.
I've never seen a printout with no faults on, ever.
Not even on trucks that are weeks old.
There's always faults.
But this just hasn't any faults whatsoever.
So either it has been very, very lucky
and never had a fault or it's never recorded a fault
or it's been manipulated some way and the faults have been erased.
Paul suspects a magnet may have been used to tamper with the
tachograph but the inspectors can't find one.
So with no physical evidence, all Paul can do is ask the driver.
I guarantee you he's going to say no.
Have you been using a magnet?
A magnet? Switch?
Are you sure?
-Are you sure?
No magnet? Really?
OK. It just seems too clean.
Reluctantly, Paul has to let the lorry go.
And Romanian driver Sorin is back with a new fuel cap.
Yeah, that's fine. The gentleman's paid his fee for the immobilisation.
He's also paid his fixed penalty fee for the defect.
Once we remove this, the gentleman is on his way.
-OK. Thank you.
It's been a successful day for the team.
They've pulled over 11 vehicles, identified four dangerous faults
and ensured these drivers are safe to keep on trucking.
Everyone involved in the multi-car smash made a full recovery.
The driver of the white van is being investigated for careless driving.
And lorry driver Sorin made one last trip back to the DVSA...
He set off and he forgot his documents.
-..before getting back on the road...
..and completing his A1 journey.