Documentary series centred on the A1. Bad drivers face a police crackdown, and traffic officers race to the scene of a treacherous blowout.
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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 is unrecognisable.
This is actually the bodywork of the car.
24 hours a day...
It's not a safe place, here.
..there's a team of people who keep us safe from harm.
We don't know whether they've got the road closed
or 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.
The careless drivers putting lives at risk.
The worst-case scenario is that it's a fatality.
Officers race to the scene...
This is high priority.
..of a treacherous tyre blowout.
Traffic's just too busy.
The chances of somebody getting struck on that offside
is really high.
And the speeding teenage motorist who's risking everything.
If we prosecute through the fixed penalty system,
this driver's going to lose his licence.
More than 1,700 people were killed or injured
in accidents on Britain's roads in 2015.
21 of them lost their lives on the A1.
Some involve just one vehicle.
Others involve several.
But by far the most common accidents seen on the highway
are rear-end shunts.
It's now half past seven in the morning
and there's a report of a pile-up
just before the A1 crosses the River Tyne.
PC Darren Lant doesn't yet know if there are any injuries.
It's vital he gets there as soon as possible.
I think what's happened is there's been a collision
involving four vehicles, and then as people have slowed down,
there's been a secondary collision, resulting in another two.
We should be coming across it shortly
on the northbound carriageway.
The accident has only just been reported
but there are already tailbacks, causing danger to other road users.
We've already got quite a substantial build-up,
and this is the main arterial route through Newcastle, the A1.
Darren needs to weave through the southbound traffic.
But many drivers have slowed to look,
creating the risk of further shunts.
The main priority, certainly for me,
is the welfare and first aid of all those involved.
The worst-case scenario is that it's a fatality,
which would mean a full road closure,
and can you imagine trying to divert everything off the A1
to an alternative route?
So we're just pulling up on scene now.
You'll be able to see the recovery truck up ahead.
No injuries? Oh, excellent. Excellent. Great.
These drivers had a lucky escape,
but until the cars are recovered, a lane has been closed on the A1
causing stop-start traffic further south.
Lane one's closed for about a fifth of the way,
about 100 metres, just north of the bridge.
The lane can't be reopened until Darren gathers his evidence.
We were just coming along, the traffic slowed down,
to be honest with you.
It was one in front, two in front and literally bumped each other.
They've just all stopped and just gone into the back of us.
After hearing one version of events,
Darren needs to get the other side of the story.
Was there anything wrong with your brakes or anything?
You don't think so.
Have you got your driving licence with you, have you?
Can I see your driving licence, please?
Well, I was on me way to work at Blyth and obviously the traffic's
slowed down and the lady's just gone into the back of us.
This is the first accident I've had.
I've been driving over 30 years.
You're more thinking about the other people trying to get to work and
you're stopping them from getting to work, so that doesn't help either.
But I'll probably not get to work for the rest of the week now,
either, until I get things sorted out.
The other driver accepts full responsibility for the crash.
Darren's now gathered the evidence he needs to decide whether
any offence has been committed.
It turned out quite...
Although it's quite substantially damaged both vehicles,
there's no injuries, which is a good thing.
It was the result of a secondary collision.
There had been one further up and the lady hasn't been able to stop
in time before the Nissan's come to a stop,
and she's gone into the back of him.
The priority now is to recover both vehicles
so that the A1 can be reopened to ease the rush-hour jams.
After 15 minutes, Darren can leave the scene,
and will assess whether to take any further action.
The driver of the Nissan, the one that's had the other one going into
the back of him, he's all right.
Nothing will happen with him.
The other driver, the female, she hasn't been able to stop in time.
She said the road was slippy, it's not, it's nice and dry.
She's not alleging any mechanical defect with her car,
she said the brakes were fine.
She doesn't know why she hasn't been able to stop in time.
It's my suspicion and I strongly suspect that she just hasn't reacted enough.
She'd been driving maybe a little too fast for the conditions,
hasn't acknowledged that the guy's coming to a stop
and just gone into the back of him.
You must be able to stop in the distance you can see ahead
to be clear. And she hasn't been able to do that.
Both cars will now be taken away to be repaired.
It'll be up to the drivers to organise their own insurance claims.
Traffic officers deal with more than 4,000 breakdowns on the A1
It's a common call-out, but one that causes delays,
disruption and danger.
In South Yorkshire,
Paul Day and Rob Larkin are on patrol along the road.
Three hours into their afternoon shift,
they spot a van on the opposite side of the A1.
There appears to be a large vehicle with a trailer on.
We're just turning to attend.
If the van's broken down in the middle of a lane,
it could cause a serious accident.
Depending on how far he is down the slip, he may well be in a live lane.
The best scenario here is that it's on the hard shoulder.
That's the potential to be the case.
But if it's a live lane, this is high priority.
He is actually on the hard shoulder.
-He's moving. Is he moving?
Looks like he's got an offside puncture.
The broken-down vehicle is a van with a trailer.
Although the driver has managed to pull onto the hard shoulder,
it's still a dangerous situation.
What's the word?
How much weight you got on there?
There's a lot on there.
This is a very dangerous job.
Around one in ten fatalities occur on the hard shoulder,
and in this case, the blown tyre is on the driver's side,
perilously close to the passing traffic.
He's so near to the hard shoulder that it'll be impossible
to change it at the side of the road.
At this time of night, if we put a lane closure out on this slip,
it'd cause chaos, so the best...
the best solution for everyone is if we can move this,
it'll only take a couple of minutes to move it,
whereas if we were going to do a wheel change, it could be up to half the night.
It's going to inconvenience thousands of people.
Traffic's just too busy.
The chances of somebody getting struck on that offside
is really high, so I'm just waiting to clear him out of the way.
Closing both lanes will bring rush-hour traffic to a standstill
but it's the best option.
Only by getting the van off the A1 can safety be guaranteed.
So let your dad know that we're going to be off at 37
and if he comes...
if he comes, get him to pull in front of us, not in front of you,
-because he'll be in a live lane if he's in front of you.
All right? That's what we're doing.
Further up the carriageway,
another patrol car is shutting down both lanes of the A1.
Now the clock is ticking, because as the tailbacks grow,
so does the risk of a pile-up.
Right, here's the gap, look.
No more traffic.
We're all going to get in and we're going to move off nice and slow.
-Take it as slow as you want.
If for any reason the tyre comes off and it's in the road, we'll stop,
we'll move the tyre off out the way, nice and steady,
just slow down a bit and then we'll catch up to you
and we'll come behind you, all right?
Right, there's our car.
You see him lit up? That means we're safe to move.
With both lanes closed,
the van can now move safely into an empty stretch of the road.
And it soon becomes apparent what may have caused the tyre
on the trailer to blow.
Yeah, I think it's heavy.
It's blown out for a reason.
And there's a lot of weight on that trailer.
The priority is getting the vehicle to safety.
It's taken three minutes to get from the A1 to a side road
and the traffic jam is now a mile long.
Paul radios through for the road to be reopened.
Alpha Charlie Lima 1-3.
Vehicle is now clear of all live lanes
and the log can be closed, over.
It's not too bad. I mean, the tyre is knacked.
The tyre is no good, but...
He's got it off. There you go.
I said he's as fast as a pit crew. Formula 1!
By acting quickly, the traffic officers have prevented
any accidents and kept the A1 moving.
-Right, no worries then. Job's a good 'un.
-Thanks for that.
-Right, we'll see you later, then.
Rob and Paul believe this A1 driver has had a close call,
like all the other motorists who pass the scene.
It was heavy, was that trailer,
which is a potential for why the tyre blew.
If the trailer's overweight,
the tyre takes too much pressure, and that blows the tyres.
The wheel could pop, it starts to get a wiggle on,
Could cause carnage, that.
If one or two of them wheels burst on the same side,
that will overturn that trailer or, at the very minimum, spill the load
across the whole motorway.
And it's just... It's just unnecessary, really.
It's been a busy late shift, and it's far from over.
For Northumbria Police, the A1 is the main road in their area.
One of those tasked with patrolling it is PC Alan Keenleyside.
And tonight, his shift begins under the shadow of
the North-East's most iconic landmark.
There was some real issues when it was first put up
that it may cause collisions by people looking at it, you know,
but thankfully it hasn't been the case.
Tonight, one of the busiest sections of the A1 around the city
is being shut for maintenance.
It's vital drivers abide by the rules to ensure
the safety of the workers on the carriageway.
To protect the road workers, the speed limit has been reduced to 50.
But there are some drivers who seem
to think the limit doesn't apply to them.
Two cars have just sped past.
The vehicle appears to be travelling above the speed limit, so we'll
now progress after the vehicle, see if we can perform a speed check.
One of the cars has pulled off at a slip road,
but Alan is still pursuing the second driver.
He suspects the two cars could have been racing.
He's actually pulled into the slow lane,
so I don't know if he's been rumbled, or he's going off here.
As soon as the driver sees Alan's blue lights,
he pulls off the A1, and stops his car.
So, we'll have a stop and see what he wants to say for himself.
I'm sitting on the slip road monitoring traffic speeds,
and everyone's doing 50, and then you two drive past like that.
Not acceptable, buddy.
-What's the craic? Be honest.
-I don't know him.
-I'm not saying you do.
-You were going quite fast. I've recorded your speed at 61mph.
All right? So if your average speed there was 61,
what was your average speed when you were driving
after that black car that went off,
before I even started you on the speed check?
It was higher than that. It was higher than that.
Alan radios control.
'Checking through the record, there's no stops and no points.'
The driver's got a clean licence,
but that could be about to change.
Alan decides to show the driver his in-car recording
of the incident.
What I want you to do, when I press play,
is look how fast these cars are going. All right?
I want you to see what 50mph looks like. All right? See the car there?
And there's you two.
I'm going to warn you for your manner of driving tonight,
on the grounds that you certainly
wouldn't drive like that on your driving test,
and if you did, you wouldn't be passing, all right?
OK, I'll write this out for you
and I'll give you your licence back
and you'll be all right to go on your way.
Warning the driver gives Alan more time to carry out
further investigations to establish exactly how far over the limit
the motorist was going.
-Look after yourself. Drive carefully, man.
-I will do.
For now, the driver is free to go,
but he'll be hearing more from Alan
once he's finished his investigation.
Without doubt, the biggest hazard for drivers on the A1
is other motorists.
Every year, there are more than 200 cases of death by careless driving
on Britain's roads.
Highways England's CCTV system has captured many incidents...
..like this case of a motorist who appears to be deliberately driving
through a set of cones on a section of the highway just near to
Scotch Corner in North Yorkshire.
The driver continues down a closed-off section of the road,
before he's stopped by workmen, and arrested by police.
A decision was later taken not to charge the driver with any offence.
It's an extreme example, but he's not the only culprit.
To the north of Newcastle, PC Darren Lant is on a mission to
crack down on the A1's careless drivers.
There's different levels of careless, isn't there?
There's something that's just a momentary lapse,
that doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad driver,
it just means at that particular time you've had a momentary lapse
and done something you shouldn't have. But then you've got the top
end of careless driver, which is bordering on dangerous driving.
It's now almost 10am,
and a driver has performed an extremely dangerous manoeuvre,
just yards in front of Darren's patrol car.
This guy, here, was clearly travelling north on the A1,
and then suddenly decided he wanted to be off at the last minute...
..and then shot across the solid white line of the hatched areas
which are there.
The solid line's there to stop people doing that.
It's a hazard area.
He came off at such a rapid pace, he was lucky not to lose control.
So we're going to stop this gentleman
and have a quick chat with him.
On the A1, it's momentary decisions like this which can change lives.
-Good morning, sir.
I can only assume that you missed your exit,
or you thought you were going to miss it, which is why you shot
across at the last minute?
I remembered at the last second at the lights in Morpeth.
All right, OK. Come and have a chat with me about two seconds
in the car, please.
Careless driving puts all other motorists at risk.
It's an offence police take very seriously.
I'm going to caution you.
You don't have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if
you don't mention when questioned something which you later rely on
in court, and anything you do say may be given in evidence.
You're not under arrest, OK? A lot of people hear that and think
they're arrested. You're not. OK?
However, the way you're driving there today,
I'm sure you've probably just been watching it there,
is clearly not of the standard required, OK?
It was quite clearly a case of careless driving.
This guy, here, OK, you've cut across the front of him,
at around about 65, 70mph, you've cut in front of him,
and you've entered the solid white line, you've entered the hatchings,
then come out again, all right?
In extreme cases, those found guilty of careless driving
can receive disqualification, and an unlimited fine.
I'm going to issue you with what's called a verbal notice of intended prosecution. OK?
You don't have to say anything, but as I say, you've been cautioned,
but I'm going to report you for consideration for the question of
prosecuting you for the offence of careless driving, all right?
So, you understand why I've stopped you?
OK, no problem. What we'll do is we'll let you out,
and you'll get some paperwork through the post in a couple
of days' time or so, OK?
OK, watch your way on out, take care.
He admits that his driving was wrong,
it was below the standard required,
and that it was a stupid thing to do.
He remembered at the last moment that there's a set of traffic
lights up in Morpeth to where he is headed,
and in order to try and avoid the traffic lights,
he thought he would come off and come up this road,
which is why he has pulled aggressively in front of that car,
and shot across the solid white lines.
To say how severe is it? It's on a sliding scale.
That case, there, I think that's pretty bad.
I think that incident, there, is pretty bad.
We've got the wet roads, we've got the damp roads, you know,
and he's travelling at speed, and he's made a very violent
manoeuvre in front of another car and across a solid white line.
It could've quite easily gone drastically wrong,
he could have lost control, so I think that's quite a severe case
of careless driving, that one.
This driver is likely to be summoned to appear at his local magistrate's.
It will be up to the courts to decide the right penalty to impose.
In Doncaster, traffic officers Rob Larkin and Paul Day are battling
treacherous conditions on the A1.
Now they've been sent to check on an abandoned van.
But it looks more like a job for Mulder and Scully.
There could be a number of explanations why the van is here.
One possibility is that it's been used to commit a crime, then dumped.
But whatever the reason, it poses a danger to other motorists.
So Paul radios his control centre to run a check on the vehicle.
Alpha Charlie Echo 13, can I get a PNC on this vehicle, please?
It is abandoned.
It's locked, secure, it's displaying hazards,
but it is on a narrow hard shoulder, over.
A few minutes later, though,
Paul finds the mystery has a more down-to-earth explanation.
I can see somebody walking back down now with a can of fuel.
No, no problem.
We're just waiting to see... What do you need?
It's OK. Is it your vehicle?
-Yeah, just out of fuel?
Every year, around 8,000 drivers run out of fuel on major roads
It's a common problem, but it carries a huge risk.
The hard shoulder of the A1 is a precarious place to be.
This is quite a regular occurrence, big van, run out of fuel,
people trying to get to the fuel station.
Although he's on the hard shoulder, as you can see now,
they're all slowing down to have a look.
You know, it's not the best place in the world.
But at least now he has fuel, he can be on his way,
but it seems this driver's not just run out of fuel,
he's also run out of luck.
The driver, Robert, is having problems with his phone, too,
but Paul helps him out.
HE SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE
There's a bit of a language barrier, so what I'm going to try and do
is give him a few minutes just to organise some recovery
or a friend to come, then I'm going to take his details,
pass it to our control room,
who will then phone him up and make sure.
That gives us the opportunity to leave.
We then tag it for a timescale to come back to it,
to make sure it's gone.
Hopefully, it'll be all sorted.
I'm going to give you two hours to shift it, yeah?
Two hours to move the car.
No, no, it's OK, just so you know.
I'm just telling you what we have to do.
If after two hours this hasn't gone, I'm going to have it moved, OK? Yes?
It can be a bit problematic at the side of the road just getting
your point across, and plus, certain foreign nationals are
a bit nervous of the fact of a uniformed presence being here.
We try to be as sympathetic as possible,
but you've got to get your point across, yeah?
Just put this on.
In situations like this, Highways England's advice is that it's safer
to stand away from a vehicle and the hard shoulder.
OK? Two hours, yeah?
A couple of hours later,
Rob and Paul are back to check on Robert and his stricken van.
They're hoping his friend has turned up with jump leads to start the
vehicle, but they're prepared for the worst.
He was on the tiger tail, wasn't he?
-Yeah, he was, just right on it where it splits.
I can't believe it, he's gone.
-I would never...
I thought that was going to be there for good, that one.
With the stricken van moved, it's a good result for Paul and Rob,
and it means the A1 is now a much safer place to drive tonight.
He's done everything we've asked of him, he's recovered his vehicle,
everybody's happy, nobody's crashed into anybody,
cones and lights, away we go.
More than 110 miles north, in Newcastle,
patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside is continuing his investigations
into a driver who was speeding towards roadworks along the A1.
-That's him there.
-That's the little red car, yeah.
By working with the Newcastle CCTV team,
they're able to calculate the length of time the driver was on the A1.
-A picture paints a thousand words.
Alan's also retracing the car's journey
so he can precisely measure the distance the driver travelled.
Back at the station, it's time to piece together all of the evidence.
Four minutes 40 at that distance is 49mph.
Two minutes 54 is clearly going to be a lot quicker,
so let's run two minutes 54 into the equation.
And that gives an average speed of 79.0344mph in a 50mph limit.
With the motorist confirmed to be nearly 30mph over the speed limit,
Alan's heading to speak to him about what action he intends to take.
If we prosecute this driver through the courts or through the
fixed-penalty system, this driver's going to lose his licence.
We've timed your vehicle, and you are going...quick.
Your average speed I've calculated at 79mph...
-..in a 50.
One more mile an hour,
and you probably would have ended up in court at that, all right?
Because the driver has shown remorse,
Alan has decided a more lenient penalty is needed on this occasion.
This here is your offer of a course.
It's an educational course, all right?
And it's for careless driving,
for changing attitudes. All right?
Go on the course, have the right attitude, learn from it, all right?
And come out of it a better driver. All right?
Being pulled over was, like, a shock, to be honest,
but, to be fair, I got caught. It's me driving like an idiot.
Like he said, if I was doing one mile an hour over,
then it would have been a court sentence, and I've accepted it,
like. It's my own fault.
Alan hopes it's the wake-up call this young driver needed.
I'm satisfied, he has shown remorse to me there. Yeah,
I really think I've made the right decision there, and as long as
he goes on that course, he'll be staying out of court.
If I can keep him safe and keep other members of the public safe
using the A1 and the other roads in the area, then I've done my job.
No further action was taken against the female driver who caused
the accident near Newcastle.
And the motorist who was stopped for careless driving on the A1 near
Morpeth ended up attending a driver improvement course.