Episode 5 A1: Britain's Longest Road


Episode 5

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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Transcript


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The A1, Britain's longest road.

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Stretching almost 400 miles from the city of London to the heart

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of the Scottish capital.

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Connecting two nations and passing through 18 counties,

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it's an unrivalled highway,

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used by hundreds of thousands of vehicles every day.

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We're going southbound down the A1 on the northbound carriageway.

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But not all journeys go to plan.

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I thought, I'm going to lose my life.

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Cars are coming close. It is a dangerous place to be.

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Lives can hang in the balance.

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The rear end of that vehicle, it's unrecognisable.

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This is actually the bodywork of the car.

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-24 hours a day...

-It's not a safe place here.

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..there's a team of people who keep us safe from harm.

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The police...

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response teams...

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We don't know whether we've got the road closed. We don't know what's happened.

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..and traffic officers...

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Keep going.

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-..keeping Britain's most iconic road...

-Get out!

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..on the move.

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Substantially damaged flatbed truck in lane two.

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The A1, the monster that it is, will start to return to normal.

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Coming up, a horrific crash,

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-with devastating consequences.

-You get one chance at life.

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And it's a really, really precious thing.

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The race to rescue drivers... HE WHISTLES

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..caught in a four-car collision.

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One three. All vehicles cleared of the lane two now.

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And the lorries putting lives at risk.

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This is a fuel tank.

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The cap's missing and somebody's just put a plastic bag in.

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From the heart of London,

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the A1 stretches nearly 400 miles north,

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through rural Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, past the industrial

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heartlands of Leeds and Newcastle,

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before finally ending in the city of Edinburgh.

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On the section just north of Newcastle,

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evening rush hour traffic is starting to build.

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A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside

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has stopped to investigate a heavy goods vehicle with Spanish plates.

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It's pulled over on the side of the road and is causing

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a dangerous obstruction.

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-HORN BLARES

-What's wrong?

-No, no. Two minutes.

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I go.

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This is not a place to stop.

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-No, I go.

-Now.

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-Yes.

-OK.

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-OK.

-Let me see your chart.

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The driver's tachograph reveals that she's reached the maximum

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number of driving hours allowed before taking a break.

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You've been driving all day.

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You should have stopped one, two miles up the road.

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But as Alan advises the driver about her rest break,

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another HGV pulls up.

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And the driver's eager to talk to Alan.

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All right, boss. No worries. Cheers, buddy. Thank you.

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And another driver has also seen the accident.

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Whereabouts?

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A pile-up in rush hour traffic is serious.

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POLICE SIREN

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Alan needs to get there quickly.

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To be perfectly honest,

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it's now quarter past five on a Monday afternoon.

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Couldn't happen at a worse time.

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Multi-car crashes often result in casualties,

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but Alan's hoping for the best.

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The ideal scenario is when we get here is nobody's seriously injured,

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the vehicles aren't particularly badly damaged,

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we can get everything moved.

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The level of injury at the scene isn't confirmed at the minute.

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But ambulances have been asked for.

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It's these people going about their business,

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probably coming home from work,

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to see their families and their loved ones,

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and all of a sudden, they've left work,

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they don't think they're going to be involved in something big like this.

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There's a car in a tree, down the ditch.

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This is really, really key in people's lives.

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These are life-changing events.

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When Alan arrives at the scene,

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it's clear that he's dealing with a major accident.

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We've got a car over there with some serious damage.

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Got a Land Rover here.

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And two vehicles, three vehicles here, so quite a sizeable scene.

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With several injured motorists,

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vehicles and debris everywhere, and rush hour traffic thundering

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past, this job will push Alan to the limit.

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This is just one of more than 320 serious accidents that happen

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on the A1 every year.

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And it's the job of traffic officers,

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as well as the police, to deal with them.

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In Doncaster, two are about to head out on the early shift.

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It's 6:30am and Paul Day and Rob Larkin will be patrolling one

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of the busiest sections of the road.

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Turn them all on. All off.

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Yeah.

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And it's not long before they have a major collision to deal with.

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-RADIO:

-'Just hearing about a few problems on the A1.

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'Looks like we could have accident involving at least

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'a couple of vehicles on the southbound side,

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'it's now slowing to queue there, so looks like we could have a problem.'

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What we've got reports of is a multi-vehicle crash,

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so we're heading south to attend it.

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Four cars have piled into each other and, with rush hour traffic

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hurtling towards them at 70mph,

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Paul and Rob know the stranded road users are in danger.

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We'll stop traffic, we'll see if anybody's injured,

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make sure everybody's OK.

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We try and get everything back to normal as quickly as possible,

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-but as safely as possible as well.

-There you go.

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Is it there?

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Yeah, lane two's blocked.

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Even though the accident has only just happened,

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traffic is already starting to build.

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One three, lane two's currently blocked. At the location given.

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Paul and Rob need to get back down the other carriageway quickly,

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but the northbound section is also virtually at a standstill.

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Look at that traffic.

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Fortunately, help is at hand. SIREN

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That should make it a little bit easier for us.

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What's good here is police attending gives forward traffic

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a way of moving out of the way.

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Cos they've got blue lights and sirens.

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-Within a few minutes, Rob and Paul are on the scene.

-We're here now.

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You want to stop everybody from that blue wagon?

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The damaged vehicles are blocking a whole lane.

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And the drivers are stood perilously in the middle of the road.

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HE WHISTLES With traffic still flowing past,

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they're in serious danger of being knocked down.

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I've got traffic stopped with code six. Police on scene.

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Having removed the vehicles safely from the carriageway...

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One three, all vehicles cleared of the lane two now.

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..Paul and Rob can reopen one of the lanes.

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A lane one close is better than a lane two.

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So that's what we've done, is put a lane one out.

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Now he needs to make sure the drivers are OK.

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-How are you?

-Shaking like a leaf, to be honest.

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Are you? You're all right. Can you tell us what happened?

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Right, so, big queue of cars in front of me.

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They all sort of suddenly stopped. I've managed to stop.

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But then just felt this car come straight into the back of me.

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Um, and then, it was almost instant, bang, bang, bang.

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Everything happened all at once.

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-I felt it.

-Did you?

-Yeah.

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Shaking a bit. Are you all right? Are you warm enough?

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-I'm all right, yeah.

-You sure? Got a coat in your car?

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-I'm fine, honest.

-Sure?

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Even with just one lane closed,

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the usual A1 traffic flow is halved and tailbacks are building fast.

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It's vital that Rob and Paul get the drivers and their damaged

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vehicles safely off the hard shoulder and open the whole

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carriageway as quickly as possible.

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I bet this is going back at least ten mile, this traffic.

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This could take all day to clear.

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The pressure is on.

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Can Paul and Rob get hundreds of vehicles moving

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before traffic is delayed for hours to come?

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More than 100 miles north at Gosforth in Newcastle,

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rush hour traffic has also been brought to virtual standstill.

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A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside is still dealing

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with a multiple crash in the outside lane.

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-So, he's coming at speed. He's hit that one.

-Yeah.

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-Which has then connected with either that one or that one.

-That one.

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His priority is to get the injured driver seen to,

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now that the ambulance has arrived.

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The paramedics are seeing to the driver of the vehicle that's

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taken the biggest hit of them all really.

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I think the driver is going to be suffering typically of

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whiplash-type injuries.

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I always err quite rightly on the side of caution,

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so we're going to put a neck collar on him and I imagine that

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driver will be going off to hospital to be properly looked at.

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The rear end of that vehicle, it's unrecognisable.

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The lady driving the Land Rover has been fortunate to have

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escaped unhurt.

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Yeah.

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But she witnessed the whole thing.

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Footage taken from her dashcam captured the terrifying

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moment of impact...

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..when congestion turned into a multicar collision.

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I was driving along, traffic was slowing down,

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I'm slowing down with the traffic. And then, it was a silver car,

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and then it smashed into the front of me.

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And then, next thing, that car ended up in the ditch.

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It was as if something off like a Hollywood film.

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Just chuck a car into the mix.

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The positive thing is I'm walking away, I'm OK.

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It's a car. I can replace the car. My baby wasn't in the car, luckily.

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Or that could have been very bad for my little boy.

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-With the injured drivers receiving treatment...

-Come on, come on. OK.

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..the officers now need to get

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the road reopened as quickly as possible.

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We've got a clear front end impact

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with what we call vehicle number one.

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Cos that's the vehicle that we're looking at as potentially

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being responsible. But over there, we've got vehicle number two,

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which has taken a heavy impact.

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OK, would you like to follow over?

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Although police are trying to keep traffic moving,

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there's still dangerous wreckage strewn across the road.

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If we leave a bit of debris,

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a motorbike or car could see that debris,

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especially at night-time with the headlights, and they could actually

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swerve to avoid that debris, which could result in another collision.

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So we need to make sure when we clean the road that it's

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-cleaned properly.

-But there's another problem.

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The crashed vehicles have also spilled fluid all over the

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-northbound carriageway.

-It's mainly water,

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but there's a little bit of engine oil in it as well.

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It means that Alan has to hold up the whole of the southbound

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section, so that absorbent material can quickly be laid on the road.

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It'll only take about two or three minutes,

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so we need to get that absorbed to make the carriageway safe, so

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things like motorbikes don't slide on the road, that type of thing.

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The only thing left to do is to safely remove the wrecked

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vehicles from the side of the road.

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What you see on the back of the car there, that's all energy.

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That's probably 60 to 70mph's worth of energy.

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Now, Alan is able to review the footage from the dashcam

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for the first time.

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Wow!

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That Micra's taken a really sizeable collision there.

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The gentleman's got his lights on.

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The gentleman's brake lights are all correctly working,

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correctly illuminated.

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Big collision.

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The roads are a cruel place.

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We hear stories from all over the country of a family in

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a car doing nothing wrong, sitting in traffic, and all of a sudden,

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there's children and adults tragically killed in a split second.

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And when you see things like this, it does hit it home. It really does.

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Because you get one chance at life and it's a really,

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really precious thing.

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The A1 is one of Britain's key routes for lorries

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transporting cargo.

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More than 80 miles away, near Wetherby,

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an operation is under way to identify HGVs that present a danger

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to other road users.

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Lorries are responsible for one in five deaths or injuries in

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accidents on the A1 each year.

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So the stakes are high.

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Faults like dodgy brakes or worn tyres on any vehicle are

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a hazard, but on a 40-tonne truck, the results can be terrifying.

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Parked up on the A1 is senior traffic inspector Paul Berryman.

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Victor two in position. Northbound.

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It's his job to spot suspect trucks.

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It's hard to actually tell you what I'm looking for.

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It's something that you...

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It's an instinct you get over a period of time.

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It's something just doesn't look right on the road.

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If it looks a little heavy, if it's not being driven right.

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And it's not long before Paul sees something that warrants

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a closer look.

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I'm just going to get that tanker there. That Belgian tanker.

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Paul needs to overtake the lorry so he can signal him to pull over.

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So I'll just get in front of him.

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But he knows we want him now cos he's slowing right down.

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The other thing I've got to watch is as I pull off the motorway,

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if he doesn't feel like following me, he'll just continue straight on

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up, which is an offence, of course, and he can be prosecuted for that.

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And Paul leads him to a weighbridge site, just off the motorway, where

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the team from the Driver And Vehicle Standards Agency are running

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today's operation.

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Hiya.

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How are you?

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I'm just giving it a quick look round,

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recording the registration number.

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Just make sure he's got all his necessary markings and

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there's nothing hanging off

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and everything looks secure.

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With 30,000 litres of Belgian chocolate on board,

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the driver's heading for York. For now though,

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he'll be the one taking a break while Paul checks his paperwork.

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Meanwhile, another lorry that was brought in earlier is getting

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its mechanical once-over.

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And it doesn't take examiner Steve White long to find

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a serious problem.

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Right.

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This is a fuel tank but obviously the cap's missing.

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Somebody's just put a plastic bag in.

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Obviously, that's going to result in immediate prohibition,

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so the vehicle can't be going any further with that defect on it

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until it's been rectified.

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With only a plastic bag stopping hundreds of litres of fuel

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from spilling all over the A1, it could be lethal.

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Even the smallest patch of diesel can be dangerous to motorists.

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So, until it's fixed,

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Romanian driver Sorin and his truck full of clothing

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won't be going anywhere.

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You need to phone your boss and get him to send a fuel cap.

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While Sorin makes his call, Steve moves on to the Belgian chocolate

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tanker and spots a fault with one of the tyres.

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I'll just show you this defect.

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-You've got some damage on a tyre.

-Yeah?

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It's not down to the wires or structure,

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so at this moment in time, it's just advisory.

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You just need to keep an eye on it, that's all.

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With advice given and his paperwork all in order,

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the driver and his delicious haul are on their way.

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But things aren't quite so sweet for driver Sorin.

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That'll be about 15 miles away.

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About 20 miles... 15/20 miles away.

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Is possible?

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It is possible but you need to get to Volvo.

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How are you going to get there? Taxi?

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Taxi?

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Sorin's day isn't getting any better.

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First came the fixed penalty fine and now he's facing

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a 30-mile round trip in a taxi to try and get a fuel cap.

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Will he ever get back on the road?

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Just over 20 miles south near Doncaster,

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traffic officers are grappling with another big challenge.

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HE WHISTLES

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After a multi-car pile-up, Paul Day and Rob Larkin are still battling to

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keep stranded motorists out of harm's way.

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Vehicles cleared of the lane two now.

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Having closed both lanes whilst damaged vehicles were removed

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from the carriageway,

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they've now reopened one of them to ease the traffic.

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Around 50 people are killed or seriously injured on Britain's

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hard shoulders every year, so Paul's priority is the drivers' safety.

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What we do now is keep an eye on people because of the

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tendency to wander about without a view for any safety.

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So that's what I'm doing at the minute is keeping an eye on

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people who are in cars.

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We don't want anybody getting further injured.

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Like, there's a bloke I'm going to move now cos he's stood

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on the outside of that car.

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-Mate!

-HE WHISTLES

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The danger is somebody not seeing this lane closure and coming

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in to him.

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They'd just take him out. He's just not looking behind him at anything.

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To ensure everyone's safe,

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Paul needs to get the drivers and their vehicles off the carriageway.

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Watch yourselves, boys!

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But only two of the cars are roadworthy.

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The others will have to be recovered.

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That'll just save it coming off in the road then.

0:21:090:21:11

Instead of leaving these two vehicles here,

0:21:110:21:14

what we're planning to do is get the police to escort the Fiesta

0:21:140:21:18

off to the next exit, so he can get recovered from there.

0:21:180:21:22

With the white Fiesta safely chaperoned off,

0:21:220:21:25

there's just the grey BMW left to shift.

0:21:250:21:28

But it won't start.

0:21:310:21:33

There's nothing there.

0:21:330:21:34

So Rob and Paul will have to push it off the road.

0:21:340:21:37

Right, we're going down this hard shoulder and the first little

0:21:400:21:44

yard, we're going in there, all right?

0:21:440:21:47

But weighing in at around 1.5 tonnes, this isn't going to be easy.

0:21:490:21:54

It's a German BMW, great engineering,

0:21:540:21:57

they make them out of solid steel. It's really, really hard to push.

0:21:570:22:01

I hope he's had his porridge this morning.

0:22:010:22:03

No need for a workout today. Luckily, the car is facing downhill.

0:22:050:22:11

That's better. I've got grip.

0:22:110:22:12

Job's a good 'un.

0:22:170:22:19

Minutes later, a recovery truck arrives to pick up the grey BMW.

0:22:220:22:26

Finally, Rob and Paul can now start to get both lanes fully reopened.

0:22:300:22:35

Everybody's cleared the live lane, so we can open this lane.

0:22:350:22:38

We're trying to get it open as quick as we can.

0:22:380:22:41

It's taken nearly an hour and a half to clear the smash and the

0:22:410:22:44

effects on this two-lane stretch will be long lasting.

0:22:440:22:47

If it was normal motorway,

0:22:470:22:49

it'd clear a lot quicker cos you've got three lanes.

0:22:490:22:52

It can handle more volume.

0:22:520:22:53

But with it being two lanes, it'll take forever.

0:22:530:22:58

Unless traffic eases, it can take all day

0:22:580:23:01

and especially if something else happens, it compounds it.

0:23:010:23:04

You can have knock-on effects all the way down.

0:23:040:23:08

-That can be pretty much everyday job, can't it, on here?

-Oh, yeah.

0:23:120:23:15

-You could get one of them every day.

-Shunts.

0:23:150:23:18

Every day, every shift.

0:23:180:23:20

It's because of the amount of traffic that uses this road.

0:23:200:23:23

-And people drive too close to each other.

-Too close, too fast.

0:23:230:23:29

Thankfully, Paul and Rob's swift actions have ensured that

0:23:290:23:33

this incident has ended without anyone getting hurt.

0:23:330:23:35

Back up the road near Wetherby,

0:23:420:23:44

keeping A1 road users safe is also a top priority for another team.

0:23:440:23:48

Inspectors from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

0:23:500:23:53

are continuing their operation to stop and check lorries

0:23:530:23:57

to ensure they're roadworthy.

0:23:570:23:59

Earlier, this wagon was found to have a serious fault

0:24:000:24:03

by enforcement vehicle examiner Steve White.

0:24:030:24:07

The fuel cap is missing and a plastic bag is the only thing

0:24:070:24:11

stopping a lethal spill.

0:24:110:24:12

Driver Sorin has gone to find a replacement cap,

0:24:150:24:18

but with no sign of his return, Steve has to take action.

0:24:180:24:22

We're going to immobilise the vehicle now.

0:24:220:24:24

He's had an hour from issuing the probation notice.

0:24:240:24:28

Obviously, the vehicle's still got the defect on,

0:24:280:24:31

so it gets immobilised.

0:24:310:24:33

And with the front wheel locked, this lorry really is going nowhere.

0:24:360:24:40

Fellow Inspector Paul Berryman is back on the A1 and pulling in

0:24:440:24:48

another truck for inspection.

0:24:480:24:50

Hello, we're just going to do a quick control. Is that OK?

0:24:560:25:01

Steve checks the truck for mechanical faults and gives

0:25:010:25:03

it the all-clear.

0:25:030:25:06

But Paul is suspicious about the tachograph

0:25:070:25:10

which records the driver's hours, speed and distance.

0:25:100:25:14

Well, the indication is that there's some sort of interference

0:25:140:25:19

but it's not solid enough to give any, sort of, evidence or proof.

0:25:190:25:24

We would need a bit more to go on.

0:25:260:25:28

The truck has done over 1 million kilometres,

0:25:310:25:34

so Paul would expect to see about 50 small mechanical faults

0:25:340:25:38

recorded in that time.

0:25:380:25:39

Things like a flat battery, but there's nothing.

0:25:400:25:44

That's the first time I've ever come across a printout like that

0:25:440:25:47

with no faults on in ten years.

0:25:470:25:51

I've never seen a printout with no faults on, ever.

0:25:510:25:54

Not even on trucks that are weeks old.

0:25:540:25:56

There's always faults.

0:25:560:25:58

But this just hasn't any faults whatsoever.

0:25:580:26:01

So either it has been very, very lucky

0:26:010:26:03

and never had a fault or it's never recorded a fault

0:26:030:26:06

or it's been manipulated some way and the faults have been erased.

0:26:060:26:10

Paul suspects a magnet may have been used to tamper with the

0:26:140:26:17

tachograph but the inspectors can't find one.

0:26:170:26:20

So with no physical evidence, all Paul can do is ask the driver.

0:26:200:26:25

I guarantee you he's going to say no.

0:26:250:26:28

Have you been using a magnet?

0:26:310:26:34

A magnet? Switch?

0:26:340:26:37

-Switch? Zapper?

-No.

-No?

0:26:370:26:39

Are you sure?

0:26:390:26:41

-Are you sure?

-Yeah, yeah.

-100%?

-No.

0:26:410:26:44

No magnet? Really?

0:26:440:26:47

OK. It just seems too clean.

0:26:470:26:52

Reluctantly, Paul has to let the lorry go.

0:26:550:26:59

And Romanian driver Sorin is back with a new fuel cap.

0:26:590:27:03

Yeah, that's fine. The gentleman's paid his fee for the immobilisation.

0:27:070:27:11

He's also paid his fixed penalty fee for the defect.

0:27:110:27:15

Once we remove this, the gentleman is on his way.

0:27:150:27:18

-OK.

-OK. Thank you.

0:27:180:27:20

It's been a successful day for the team.

0:27:220:27:25

They've pulled over 11 vehicles, identified four dangerous faults

0:27:250:27:28

and ensured these drivers are safe to keep on trucking.

0:27:280:27:33

Everyone involved in the multi-car smash made a full recovery.

0:27:380:27:42

The driver of the white van is being investigated for careless driving.

0:27:420:27:47

And lorry driver Sorin made one last trip back to the DVSA...

0:27:490:27:53

He set off and he forgot his documents.

0:27:530:27:56

-..before getting back on the road...

-OK!

0:27:560:27:59

..and completing his A1 journey.

0:27:590:28:00

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