Episode 6 A1: Britain's Longest Road


Episode 6

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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Transcript


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The A1, Britain's longest road.

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Stretching almost 400 miles from the City of London

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to the heart 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.

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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 is unrecognisable.

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This is actually the bodywork of the car.

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24 hours a day...

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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 they've got the road closed

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or 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...

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-Get out!

-..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...

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The careless drivers putting lives at risk.

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The worst-case scenario is that it's a fatality.

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Officers race to the scene...

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This is high priority.

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..of a treacherous tyre blowout.

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Traffic's just too busy.

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The chances of somebody getting struck on that offside

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is really high.

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And the speeding teenage motorist who's risking everything.

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If we prosecute through the fixed penalty system,

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this driver's going to lose his licence.

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More than 1,700 people were killed or injured

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in accidents on Britain's roads in 2015.

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21 of them lost their lives on the A1.

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Some involve just one vehicle.

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Others involve several.

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But by far the most common accidents seen on the highway

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are rear-end shunts.

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It's now half past seven in the morning

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and there's a report of a pile-up

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just before the A1 crosses the River Tyne.

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PC Darren Lant doesn't yet know if there are any injuries.

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It's vital he gets there as soon as possible.

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I think what's happened is there's been a collision

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involving four vehicles, and then as people have slowed down,

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there's been a secondary collision, resulting in another two.

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We should be coming across it shortly

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on the northbound carriageway.

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The accident has only just been reported

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but there are already tailbacks, causing danger to other road users.

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We've already got quite a substantial build-up,

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and this is the main arterial route through Newcastle, the A1.

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Darren needs to weave through the southbound traffic.

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But many drivers have slowed to look,

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creating the risk of further shunts.

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The main priority, certainly for me,

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is the welfare and first aid of all those involved.

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The worst-case scenario is that it's a fatality,

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which would mean a full road closure,

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and can you imagine trying to divert everything off the A1

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to an alternative route?

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So we're just pulling up on scene now.

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You'll be able to see the recovery truck up ahead.

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Anybody hurt?

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No injuries? Oh, excellent. Excellent. Great.

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These drivers had a lucky escape,

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but until the cars are recovered, a lane has been closed on the A1

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causing stop-start traffic further south.

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Lane one's closed for about a fifth of the way,

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about 100 metres, just north of the bridge.

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The lane can't be reopened until Darren gathers his evidence.

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We were just coming along, the traffic slowed down,

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to be honest with you.

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It was one in front, two in front and literally bumped each other.

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They've just all stopped and just gone into the back of us.

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After hearing one version of events,

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Darren needs to get the other side of the story.

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Was there anything wrong with your brakes or anything?

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You don't think so.

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Have you got your driving licence with you, have you?

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Can I see your driving licence, please?

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Well, I was on me way to work at Blyth and obviously the traffic's

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slowed down and the lady's just gone into the back of us.

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This is the first accident I've had.

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I've been driving over 30 years.

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You're more thinking about the other people trying to get to work and

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you're stopping them from getting to work, so that doesn't help either.

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But I'll probably not get to work for the rest of the week now,

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either, until I get things sorted out.

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The other driver accepts full responsibility for the crash.

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Darren's now gathered the evidence he needs to decide whether

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any offence has been committed.

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It turned out quite...

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Although it's quite substantially damaged both vehicles,

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there's no injuries, which is a good thing.

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It was the result of a secondary collision.

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There had been one further up and the lady hasn't been able to stop

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in time before the Nissan's come to a stop,

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and she's gone into the back of him.

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The priority now is to recover both vehicles

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so that the A1 can be reopened to ease the rush-hour jams.

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After 15 minutes, Darren can leave the scene,

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and will assess whether to take any further action.

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The driver of the Nissan, the one that's had the other one going into

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the back of him, he's all right.

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Nothing will happen with him.

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The other driver, the female, she hasn't been able to stop in time.

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She said the road was slippy, it's not, it's nice and dry.

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She's not alleging any mechanical defect with her car,

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she said the brakes were fine.

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She doesn't know why she hasn't been able to stop in time.

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It's my suspicion and I strongly suspect that she just hasn't reacted enough.

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She'd been driving maybe a little too fast for the conditions,

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hasn't acknowledged that the guy's coming to a stop

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and just gone into the back of him.

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You must be able to stop in the distance you can see ahead

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to be clear. And she hasn't been able to do that.

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Both cars will now be taken away to be repaired.

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It'll be up to the drivers to organise their own insurance claims.

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Traffic officers deal with more than 4,000 breakdowns on the A1

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every year.

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It's a common call-out, but one that causes delays,

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disruption and danger.

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In South Yorkshire,

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Paul Day and Rob Larkin are on patrol along the road.

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Three hours into their afternoon shift,

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they spot a van on the opposite side of the A1.

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There appears to be a large vehicle with a trailer on.

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We're just turning to attend.

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If the van's broken down in the middle of a lane,

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it could cause a serious accident.

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Depending on how far he is down the slip, he may well be in a live lane.

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The best scenario here is that it's on the hard shoulder.

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That's the potential to be the case.

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But if it's a live lane, this is high priority.

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He is actually on the hard shoulder.

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-Just.

-He's moving. Is he moving?

-No.

-He is.

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Looks like he's got an offside puncture.

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The broken-down vehicle is a van with a trailer.

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Although the driver has managed to pull onto the hard shoulder,

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it's still a dangerous situation.

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What's the word?

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How much weight you got on there?

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There's a lot on there.

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This is a very dangerous job.

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Around one in ten fatalities occur on the hard shoulder,

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and in this case, the blown tyre is on the driver's side,

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perilously close to the passing traffic.

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He's so near to the hard shoulder that it'll be impossible

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to change it at the side of the road.

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At this time of night, if we put a lane closure out on this slip,

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it'd cause chaos, so the best...

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the best solution for everyone is if we can move this,

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it'll only take a couple of minutes to move it,

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whereas if we were going to do a wheel change, it could be up to half the night.

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It's going to inconvenience thousands of people.

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Traffic's just too busy.

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The chances of somebody getting struck on that offside

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is really high, so I'm just waiting to clear him out of the way.

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Closing both lanes will bring rush-hour traffic to a standstill

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but it's the best option.

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Only by getting the van off the A1 can safety be guaranteed.

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So let your dad know that we're going to be off at 37

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and if he comes...

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if he comes, get him to pull in front of us, not in front of you,

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-because he'll be in a live lane if he's in front of you.

-Right.

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All right? That's what we're doing.

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Further up the carriageway,

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another patrol car is shutting down both lanes of the A1.

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Now the clock is ticking, because as the tailbacks grow,

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so does the risk of a pile-up.

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Right, here's the gap, look.

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No more traffic.

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We're all going to get in and we're going to move off nice and slow.

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-Take it as slow as you want.

-Yeah.

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If for any reason the tyre comes off and it's in the road, we'll stop,

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we'll move the tyre off out the way, nice and steady,

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just slow down a bit and then we'll catch up to you

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and we'll come behind you, all right?

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Right, there's our car.

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You see him lit up? That means we're safe to move.

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With both lanes closed,

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the van can now move safely into an empty stretch of the road.

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And it soon becomes apparent what may have caused the tyre

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on the trailer to blow.

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Yeah, I think it's heavy.

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It's blown out for a reason.

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And there's a lot of weight on that trailer.

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The priority is getting the vehicle to safety.

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It's taken three minutes to get from the A1 to a side road

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and the traffic jam is now a mile long.

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Paul radios through for the road to be reopened.

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Alpha Charlie Lima 1-3.

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Vehicle is now clear of all live lanes

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and the log can be closed, over.

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It's not too bad. I mean, the tyre is knacked.

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The tyre is no good, but...

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He's got it off. There you go.

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I said he's as fast as a pit crew. Formula 1!

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By acting quickly, the traffic officers have prevented

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any accidents and kept the A1 moving.

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-Right, no worries then. Job's a good 'un.

-Thanks for that.

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-Right, we'll see you later, then.

-Cheers.

-Thank you.

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Rob and Paul believe this A1 driver has had a close call,

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like all the other motorists who pass the scene.

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It was heavy, was that trailer,

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which is a potential for why the tyre blew.

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If the trailer's overweight,

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the tyre takes too much pressure, and that blows the tyres.

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The wheel could pop, it starts to get a wiggle on,

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overturns...

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Could cause carnage, that.

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If one or two of them wheels burst on the same side,

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that will overturn that trailer or, at the very minimum, spill the load

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across the whole motorway.

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And it's just... It's just unnecessary, really.

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It's been a busy late shift, and it's far from over.

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For Northumbria Police, the A1 is the main road in their area.

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One of those tasked with patrolling it is PC Alan Keenleyside.

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And tonight, his shift begins under the shadow of

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the North-East's most iconic landmark.

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There was some real issues when it was first put up

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that it may cause collisions by people looking at it, you know,

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but thankfully it hasn't been the case.

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Tonight, one of the busiest sections of the A1 around the city

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is being shut for maintenance.

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It's vital drivers abide by the rules to ensure

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the safety of the workers on the carriageway.

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To protect the road workers, the speed limit has been reduced to 50.

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But there are some drivers who seem

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to think the limit doesn't apply to them.

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Two cars have just sped past.

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The vehicle appears to be travelling above the speed limit, so we'll

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now progress after the vehicle, see if we can perform a speed check.

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One of the cars has pulled off at a slip road,

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but Alan is still pursuing the second driver.

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He suspects the two cars could have been racing.

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He's actually pulled into the slow lane,

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so I don't know if he's been rumbled, or he's going off here.

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As soon as the driver sees Alan's blue lights,

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he pulls off the A1, and stops his car.

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So, we'll have a stop and see what he wants to say for himself.

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I'm sitting on the slip road monitoring traffic speeds,

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and everyone's doing 50, and then you two drive past like that.

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Not acceptable, buddy.

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-What's the craic? Be honest.

-I don't know him.

-I'm not saying you do.

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-No, no.

-You were going quite fast. I've recorded your speed at 61mph.

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All right? So if your average speed there was 61,

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what was your average speed when you were driving

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after that black car that went off,

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before I even started you on the speed check?

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It was higher than that. It was higher than that.

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Alan radios control.

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'Checking through the record, there's no stops and no points.'

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The driver's got a clean licence,

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but that could be about to change.

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Alan decides to show the driver his in-car recording

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of the incident.

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What I want you to do, when I press play,

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is look how fast these cars are going. All right?

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I want you to see what 50mph looks like. All right? See the car there?

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-Yeah.

-50mph?

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And there's you two.

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I'm going to warn you for your manner of driving tonight,

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on the grounds that you certainly

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wouldn't drive like that on your driving test,

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and if you did, you wouldn't be passing, all right?

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OK, I'll write this out for you

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and I'll give you your licence back

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and you'll be all right to go on your way.

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Warning the driver gives Alan more time to carry out

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further investigations to establish exactly how far over the limit

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the motorist was going.

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-Look after yourself. Drive carefully, man.

-I will do.

-See ya.

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For now, the driver is free to go,

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but he'll be hearing more from Alan

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once he's finished his investigation.

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Without doubt, the biggest hazard for drivers on the A1

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is other motorists.

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Every year, there are more than 200 cases of death by careless driving

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on Britain's roads.

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Highways England's CCTV system has captured many incidents...

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..like this case of a motorist who appears to be deliberately driving

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through a set of cones on a section of the highway just near to

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Scotch Corner in North Yorkshire.

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The driver continues down a closed-off section of the road,

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before he's stopped by workmen, and arrested by police.

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A decision was later taken not to charge the driver with any offence.

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It's an extreme example, but he's not the only culprit.

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To the north of Newcastle, PC Darren Lant is on a mission to

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crack down on the A1's careless drivers.

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There's different levels of careless, isn't there?

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There's something that's just a momentary lapse,

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that doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad driver,

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it just means at that particular time you've had a momentary lapse

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and done something you shouldn't have. But then you've got the top

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end of careless driver, which is bordering on dangerous driving.

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It's now almost 10am,

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and a driver has performed an extremely dangerous manoeuvre,

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just yards in front of Darren's patrol car.

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This guy, here, was clearly travelling north on the A1,

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and then suddenly decided he wanted to be off at the last minute...

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..and then shot across the solid white line of the hatched areas

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which are there.

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The solid line's there to stop people doing that.

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It's a hazard area.

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He came off at such a rapid pace, he was lucky not to lose control.

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So we're going to stop this gentleman

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and have a quick chat with him.

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On the A1, it's momentary decisions like this which can change lives.

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-Good morning, sir.

-Morning.

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I can only assume that you missed your exit,

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or you thought you were going to miss it, which is why you shot

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across at the last minute?

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I remembered at the last second at the lights in Morpeth.

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All right, OK. Come and have a chat with me about two seconds

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in the car, please.

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Careless driving puts all other motorists at risk.

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It's an offence police take very seriously.

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I'm going to caution you.

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You don't have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if

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you don't mention when questioned something which you later rely on

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in court, and anything you do say may be given in evidence.

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You're not under arrest, OK? A lot of people hear that and think

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they're arrested. You're not. OK?

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However, the way you're driving there today,

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I'm sure you've probably just been watching it there,

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is clearly not of the standard required, OK?

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It was quite clearly a case of careless driving.

0:18:180:18:20

This guy, here, OK, you've cut across the front of him,

0:18:200:18:25

at around about 65, 70mph, you've cut in front of him,

0:18:250:18:28

and you've entered the solid white line, you've entered the hatchings,

0:18:280:18:31

then come out again, all right?

0:18:310:18:33

In extreme cases, those found guilty of careless driving

0:18:330:18:36

can receive disqualification, and an unlimited fine.

0:18:360:18:40

I'm going to issue you with what's called a verbal notice of intended prosecution. OK?

0:18:400:18:44

You don't have to say anything, but as I say, you've been cautioned,

0:18:440:18:46

but I'm going to report you for consideration for the question of

0:18:460:18:49

prosecuting you for the offence of careless driving, all right?

0:18:490:18:52

So, you understand why I've stopped you?

0:18:520:18:53

OK, no problem. What we'll do is we'll let you out,

0:18:530:18:56

and you'll get some paperwork through the post in a couple

0:18:560:18:58

of days' time or so, OK?

0:18:580:19:00

OK, watch your way on out, take care.

0:19:040:19:07

He admits that his driving was wrong,

0:19:070:19:10

it was below the standard required,

0:19:100:19:12

and that it was a stupid thing to do.

0:19:120:19:14

He remembered at the last moment that there's a set of traffic

0:19:140:19:16

lights up in Morpeth to where he is headed,

0:19:160:19:18

and in order to try and avoid the traffic lights,

0:19:180:19:21

he thought he would come off and come up this road,

0:19:210:19:23

which is why he has pulled aggressively in front of that car,

0:19:230:19:26

and shot across the solid white lines.

0:19:260:19:28

To say how severe is it? It's on a sliding scale.

0:19:300:19:33

That case, there, I think that's pretty bad.

0:19:330:19:36

I think that incident, there, is pretty bad.

0:19:360:19:39

We've got the wet roads, we've got the damp roads, you know,

0:19:390:19:42

and he's travelling at speed, and he's made a very violent

0:19:420:19:45

manoeuvre in front of another car and across a solid white line.

0:19:450:19:47

It could've quite easily gone drastically wrong,

0:19:470:19:50

he could have lost control, so I think that's quite a severe case

0:19:500:19:52

of careless driving, that one.

0:19:520:19:54

This driver is likely to be summoned to appear at his local magistrate's.

0:19:570:20:01

It will be up to the courts to decide the right penalty to impose.

0:20:010:20:05

In Doncaster, traffic officers Rob Larkin and Paul Day are battling

0:20:160:20:20

treacherous conditions on the A1.

0:20:200:20:23

Now they've been sent to check on an abandoned van.

0:20:250:20:27

But it looks more like a job for Mulder and Scully.

0:20:290:20:32

There could be a number of explanations why the van is here.

0:20:340:20:38

One possibility is that it's been used to commit a crime, then dumped.

0:20:380:20:43

But whatever the reason, it poses a danger to other motorists.

0:20:430:20:47

So Paul radios his control centre to run a check on the vehicle.

0:20:470:20:52

Alpha Charlie Echo 13, can I get a PNC on this vehicle, please?

0:20:520:20:56

It is abandoned.

0:20:560:20:58

It's locked, secure, it's displaying hazards,

0:21:000:21:03

but it is on a narrow hard shoulder, over.

0:21:030:21:05

A few minutes later, though,

0:21:060:21:08

Paul finds the mystery has a more down-to-earth explanation.

0:21:080:21:13

I can see somebody walking back down now with a can of fuel.

0:21:130:21:15

-Hiya, boss.

-Sorry.

0:21:180:21:20

No, no problem.

0:21:200:21:22

We're just waiting to see... What do you need?

0:21:220:21:24

It's OK. Is it your vehicle?

0:21:250:21:28

-Yeah.

-Yeah, just out of fuel?

0:21:280:21:30

OK.

0:21:300:21:32

Every year, around 8,000 drivers run out of fuel on major roads

0:21:320:21:36

in England.

0:21:360:21:37

-OK?

-Yeah.

0:21:370:21:38

It's a common problem, but it carries a huge risk.

0:21:380:21:42

The hard shoulder of the A1 is a precarious place to be.

0:21:420:21:46

This is quite a regular occurrence, big van, run out of fuel,

0:21:460:21:49

people trying to get to the fuel station.

0:21:490:21:51

Although he's on the hard shoulder, as you can see now,

0:21:520:21:55

they're all slowing down to have a look.

0:21:550:21:58

You know, it's not the best place in the world.

0:21:580:22:00

But at least now he has fuel, he can be on his way,

0:22:000:22:04

but it seems this driver's not just run out of fuel,

0:22:040:22:08

he's also run out of luck.

0:22:080:22:10

Battery's flat.

0:22:140:22:15

The driver, Robert, is having problems with his phone, too,

0:22:160:22:20

but Paul helps him out.

0:22:200:22:22

HE SPEAKS IN OWN LANGUAGE

0:22:220:22:23

-OK?

-Yeah.

0:22:260:22:27

OK.

0:22:300:22:32

There's a bit of a language barrier, so what I'm going to try and do

0:22:320:22:35

is give him a few minutes just to organise some recovery

0:22:350:22:38

or a friend to come, then I'm going to take his details,

0:22:380:22:41

pass it to our control room,

0:22:410:22:42

who will then phone him up and make sure.

0:22:420:22:45

That gives us the opportunity to leave.

0:22:450:22:47

We then tag it for a timescale to come back to it,

0:22:470:22:49

to make sure it's gone.

0:22:490:22:51

Hopefully, it'll be all sorted.

0:22:530:22:55

I'm going to give you two hours to shift it, yeah?

0:22:570:23:03

Two hours to move the car.

0:23:030:23:06

No, no, it's OK, just so you know.

0:23:060:23:08

I'm just telling you what we have to do.

0:23:080:23:10

If after two hours this hasn't gone, I'm going to have it moved, OK? Yes?

0:23:100:23:18

It can be a bit problematic at the side of the road just getting

0:23:180:23:21

your point across, and plus, certain foreign nationals are

0:23:210:23:25

a bit nervous of the fact of a uniformed presence being here.

0:23:250:23:29

We try to be as sympathetic as possible,

0:23:300:23:32

but you've got to get your point across, yeah?

0:23:320:23:35

Just put this on.

0:23:360:23:37

OK.

0:23:390:23:41

In situations like this, Highways England's advice is that it's safer

0:23:410:23:45

to stand away from a vehicle and the hard shoulder.

0:23:450:23:48

OK? Two hours, yeah?

0:23:480:23:50

Stay out.

0:23:500:23:51

Right. Happy.

0:23:530:23:55

A couple of hours later,

0:24:000:24:02

Rob and Paul are back to check on Robert and his stricken van.

0:24:020:24:05

They're hoping his friend has turned up with jump leads to start the

0:24:070:24:10

vehicle, but they're prepared for the worst.

0:24:100:24:13

He was on the tiger tail, wasn't he?

0:24:130:24:15

-Yeah, he was, just right on it where it splits.

-He's gone!

0:24:150:24:18

I can't believe it, he's gone.

0:24:180:24:20

-I would never...

-No.

0:24:200:24:22

I thought that was going to be there for good, that one.

0:24:220:24:24

With the stricken van moved, it's a good result for Paul and Rob,

0:24:260:24:30

and it means the A1 is now a much safer place to drive tonight.

0:24:300:24:34

He's done everything we've asked of him, he's recovered his vehicle,

0:24:340:24:37

everybody's happy, nobody's crashed into anybody,

0:24:370:24:39

cones and lights, away we go.

0:24:390:24:41

More than 110 miles north, in Newcastle,

0:24:510:24:54

patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside is continuing his investigations

0:24:540:24:58

into a driver who was speeding towards roadworks along the A1.

0:24:580:25:03

-That's him there.

-That's the little red car, yeah.

0:25:030:25:05

By working with the Newcastle CCTV team,

0:25:050:25:08

they're able to calculate the length of time the driver was on the A1.

0:25:080:25:11

-A picture paints a thousand words.

-Yeah.

0:25:130:25:15

Alan's also retracing the car's journey

0:25:150:25:17

so he can precisely measure the distance the driver travelled.

0:25:170:25:21

3,821 metres.

0:25:220:25:25

Back at the station, it's time to piece together all of the evidence.

0:25:280:25:32

Four minutes 40 at that distance is 49mph.

0:25:340:25:38

Two minutes 54 is clearly going to be a lot quicker,

0:25:380:25:43

so let's run two minutes 54 into the equation.

0:25:430:25:45

And that gives an average speed of 79.0344mph in a 50mph limit.

0:25:480:25:55

With the motorist confirmed to be nearly 30mph over the speed limit,

0:25:560:26:00

Alan's heading to speak to him about what action he intends to take.

0:26:000:26:05

If we prosecute this driver through the courts or through the

0:26:050:26:08

fixed-penalty system, this driver's going to lose his licence.

0:26:080:26:11

We've timed your vehicle, and you are going...quick.

0:26:170:26:21

Your average speed I've calculated at 79mph...

0:26:210:26:25

-All right.

-..in a 50.

0:26:250:26:27

One more mile an hour,

0:26:270:26:29

and you probably would have ended up in court at that, all right?

0:26:290:26:32

Because the driver has shown remorse,

0:26:330:26:35

Alan has decided a more lenient penalty is needed on this occasion.

0:26:350:26:39

This here is your offer of a course.

0:26:410:26:45

It's an educational course, all right?

0:26:470:26:49

And it's for careless driving,

0:26:490:26:51

for changing attitudes. All right?

0:26:510:26:53

Go on the course, have the right attitude, learn from it, all right?

0:26:530:26:57

And come out of it a better driver. All right?

0:26:570:27:00

Being pulled over was, like, a shock, to be honest,

0:27:030:27:06

but, to be fair, I got caught. It's me driving like an idiot.

0:27:060:27:11

Like he said, if I was doing one mile an hour over,

0:27:110:27:14

then it would have been a court sentence, and I've accepted it,

0:27:140:27:16

like. It's my own fault.

0:27:160:27:19

Alan hopes it's the wake-up call this young driver needed.

0:27:190:27:22

I'm satisfied, he has shown remorse to me there. Yeah,

0:27:240:27:27

I really think I've made the right decision there, and as long as

0:27:270:27:31

he goes on that course, he'll be staying out of court.

0:27:310:27:35

If I can keep him safe and keep other members of the public safe

0:27:350:27:38

using the A1 and the other roads in the area, then I've done my job.

0:27:380:27:41

No further action was taken against the female driver who caused

0:27:490:27:53

the accident near Newcastle.

0:27:530:27:55

And the motorist who was stopped for careless driving on the A1 near

0:27:550:27:59

Morpeth ended up attending a driver improvement course.

0:27:590:28:01

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