Documentary series centred on the A1. A runaway van careers down an embankment to leave the road in total gridlock, and police race to a multiple-car crash near Newcastle.
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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 am 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 we'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.
Coming up -
a runaway van crashes down an embankment...
-Police are all in the slip, so...
-We need to keep going.
..and leaves the A1 in total gridlock.
The race to get to a multiple crash near Newcastle.
Injuries sustained in road traffic collisions
are quite often life-changing.
And the risks for road workers clearing up the A1's graffiti.
We're right on the bend. It's very, very dangerous.
I mean, you can hear the traffic going past us now.
At nearly 400 miles long,
the A1 runs through country more diverse than any other British road.
From the heart of London, it heads north, past Peterborough,
Grantham and the industrial heartlands of Leeds and Newcastle.
In all, it sees 18 counties
before it finally ends in the City of Edinburgh.
7.30am, rush hour, near Newcastle,
and while thousands of commuters slowly edge their way to work,
an emergency call means A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside
needs to quickly jump the queue.
At the moment, we're right at the start of
morning rush hour on a Tuesday morning.
It's two Celsius, we've got freezing fog,
and we've just had a report that the A1 is blocked southbound.
But it's what's blocking the road which is worrying Alan -
there's been a three-car pile-up in the fast lane and the potential
for injuries is massive.
A real priority here is to get to the scene, to assess any injuries,
and try to get this road opened as quickly as possible.
My own personal fear is always the level of injury,
that people aren't too badly injured. Cars can be replaced,
vehicles can be replaced, people can't.
Injuries sustained in road-traffic collisions are quite often
life-changing and life-lasting.
Alan's colleagues and firefighters are already at the scene.
Two of the cars have crashed into each other in the fast lane,
causing some serious damage, and a third vehicle, a silver Kia,
has ended up 50 yards down the road.
What we're looking at now is a collision, which is reasonably
typical of rush-hour traffic.
Three vehicles have been travelling in the fast lane.
For some reason, the traffic has slowed in front.
The Volvo has reacted to that, braking heavily.
Then the Vauxhall Corsa brakes, pushing the Volvo forward
into the third vehicle, which is a silver Kia.
Minor damage to the Kia,
quite significant damage to the rear of the Volvo and to the Corsa.
Sometimes when you get brake fluid, oil, oil especially,
it gets quite slippy, especially on a damp road surface,
so we need to get some cleansing down as well.
Business manager Lee Kerswell was driving his Volvo to his office
in Durham when he collided with the car in front.
I put my brakes on.
The car just started to slide. I nudged him,
and then all of a sudden there was a big impact from behind
and the air bags and everything went off and then from there,
everything started to go crazy.
Lots of people, lots of blue flashing lights.
Just glad everybody was OK, I think that's the first thing.
It was quite an impact from behind.
The car had gone underneath mine.
The other car was being driven by hairdresser Kathleen Watson.
I was just driving along, happily driving along, going to work.
And the guy in front just put his brakes on
and I slammed my brakes on, and the next minute, crashed, that's it.
There was nothing...
I couldn't see anything untoward that was wrong on the road.
Just cannae believe it.
Bit shocked, I'm shocked, just shocked...
that it's happened.
I've been driving for a lot of years and...
..never had anything like this.
Haven't even got a point on my licence or anything.
With no-one injured, Alan's priority is to clear the carriageway.
Can I have the keys...?
Is this yours, is it? Do you mind if I have a go at trying to start it?
-Go for it.
-All right. It might do.
And Alan's in luck.
While the Volvo proves easy to move,
there's little hope for Kathleen's car - it's a total write-off.
Traffic's already stretching back six miles,
and unless the car is moved, it could get a whole lot worse.
Nearly seven billion miles are travelled on the A1 every year.
With such a massive volume of traffic pounding the road,
there's an army of workers dedicating to keeping the A1
in tiptop condition.
These caretakers of the road turn their hand to everything -
from picking up litter...
..to driving a gritter.
And when the A1 cracks under the pressure...
-..they're there to smooth things over.
In County Durham,
one of these teams is clocking on for their morning shift.
At their depot just off the A1,
Joe Wafer and Kev Taylor are preparing to take on a job
which only a tin of masonry paint can solve.
Whether it's vandalism or urban art,
graffiti along the A1 is a real problem,
with scores of incidents reported to Highways England every year.
Hi, Kelvin. Sure.
And during his seven years in the job,
Joe has developed a critical eye.
Most of the time, it's like an art type thing,
people putting designs on, as you will.
We have had graffiti with,
"Jill, will you marry me?" and things like that,
which is great for them, but, you know,
it's not every Jill that comes up the network is deciding whether
they're going to get married or not(!)
So, it doesn't matter what graffiti it is,
it's all got to be removed or overpainted.
What people see as just a harmless bit of paint could turn out to be,
you know, time-consuming and expensive to remove.
And their job today is a huge one.
They're tackling this sprawling eight-metre long section of graffiti
under a motorway bridge near Bowburn.
It's been freshly daubed on, but it's about to get another coat.
To be quite honest, I've got better things to do with my time than
actually come to a bridge and paint it for two or three hours.
It's just one of those things.
They paint it, we come out and paint over it.
With Joe keeping an eye on the traffic,
Kev gets to work with the masonry paint.
For them, it's not just about getting rid of all the eyesores,
but stopping accidents.
We have to cover this up
simply because the traffic that is passing,
people tend to look at graffiti
and they're obviously not concentrating on the road.
So, we mask it off so it ends up grey and at a later stage,
Highways England will bring in a company to remove it completely.
There's a serious sense of deja vu.
This is the sixth time they've repainted this bridge
in the last year.
Personally, I think it's a waste.
I think it's a waste of time, money and effort.
It's their type of art.
To me, I'd sooner see a canvas hanging up in a museum.
Even though the artist has painted his piece in an area easy to reach,
it's still a step too far for Joe.
I'll do some of the top stuff.
I've got me colleague with us today.
Kev's nickname is "the giraffe", and he can reach the high bits.
See, I can't reach up there, Kev.
I've got a higher standard, you see. I do all the heights.
Kev's wife has just been on the phone.
He's got to do a painting job when he gets home.
Apparently, your kitchen needs painting, Kev.
It's obvious Joe doesn't know me.
After an hour, Joe and Kev have managed to conceal the graffiti.
But with slogans being repainted regularly,
they know it's likely they'll be back here, removing them again soon.
As you can see, it is time-consuming.
But it's got to be done.
we won't be revisited here for a while.
Now that is a work of art. Nice and clear.
That's a face of pride, that.
That's one for Highways England.
The boys are back.
However, their next paint job isn't going to be as straightforward,
and they'll definitely need a head for heights.
Just a few miles up the road in Newcastle,
PC Alan Keenleyside is still trying to reopen his section of the A1.
A three-car crash in the morning rush hour is causing traffic chaos.
With just one lane moving,
Alan is trying to clear the vehicles
and reopen the road as quickly as possible.
Right now, we're probably looking at around about five to six miles of
slow-moving traffic behind us.
So we're really moving as quickly as we can to get this cleared.
Business manager Lee Kerswell, who was caught up in the crash,
has taken the brunt of motorists' anger.
We actually got quite a few people shouting abuse out the window,
obscenities and that, because obviously,
we deliberately crashed this morning, that was the aim,
to spoil everybody's commute to work.
It's quite disappointing.
You know, somebody could have been seriously injured.
And that's the kind of attitude we were getting.
With the smashed-up Corsa still blocking the fast lane,
it's going to need a police 4x4 to shift it.
It's clearly going to move, cos we've got the power
in this to pull it. But we need to do it safely,
make sure we're not going to get right across the road
and then a wheel is going to fall off.
While Alan stops the frustrated commuters one last time,
the car is finally dragged off the carriageway.
And it's a race to clean up and get the road back to normal.
We need to look at bits like this - if a member of the public
comes along in the hours to come, on a motorcycle...
sees these bits, they might react to it, and if they react,
could cause a collision.
Right, that's it, we're ready to reopen.
It's taken 20 minutes to clear the accident.
Now Alan and fellow officers
have to deal with the people involved in the crash.
-Are you all right?
Part of this is making sure the drivers are breathalysed.
I certainly don't suspect any of these drivers being impaired
through alcohol or drugs, but in Northumbria,
if you are involved in a road-traffic collision,
you will be breathalysed as a matter of course.
For the drivers caught up in the incident
in sub-zero weather conditions,
it's been a learning experience in more ways than one.
It's a little bit chilly this morning.
A good day not to have your coat with you.
When you're defrosting your car, maybe it's a good thought to
actually make sure you take your coat with you.
Need to think that in future, always make sure there's a coat in the car.
Traffic's finally flowing again past the scene,
although the knock-on effects from this smash will ripple down the road
for hours to come.
That now, the A1, the monster that it is,
will start to return to normal.
Unfortunately, mornings like this
will probably never fully recover from that incident.
That backlog of traffic will remain in some form,
but that's the harsh reality of it.
One incident that's lasted 20-25 minutes has a knock-on effect
for many, many hours.
The average cost of a minor collision on the A1
is around £15,000,
so this three car pile-up, which held up rush-hour traffic for
almost half an hour, could easily run into the tens of thousands.
But with more than 500,000 vehicles using the A1 near Newcastle
every week, it's not only police officers like Alan
who keep motorists moving.
When problems crop up, it's also the job of
Highways England traffic officers Peter Senior and Scott Wilson
to be in the right place at the right time.
For motorists travelling along the road,
a stray object can prove potentially deadly.
There's a possibility, if someone strikes it,
it could blow their tyres out, it could possibly throw it up
and strike another vehicle.
I've heard stories of the actual hook digging into the tyre
and then the strap wrapping around the axle,
or wrapping around the wheel.
Unfortunately for Scott and Peter,
this latest item is right in the middle of one of the fastest-flowing
sections of the A1.
To remove it safely means they're going to have to stop the traffic.
You just find a gap, and we'll go for it.
-Get it on now, mate.
Lights and "don't pass" displayed.
Hotel, Alpha, Charlie, Lima, 4-1,
we've now implemented the block just adjacent to Washington services,
For traffic officers like Peter and Scott,
the rolling road block is a well-rehearsed manoeuvre.
4-1, we've taken a position lane two.
We have full compliance.
Got traffic speed down to 5-0, over.
It allows them to slow the traffic down
and bring it to a halt just before the debris.
We've got control of the traffic, but we've still got to be
watching that traffic just to make sure no-one comes past.
Just need to get control of the traffic off this slip now,
which we've got.
We'll let that van get away.
4-1, we've now got traffic at a stop.
Just going to remove the debris now. Stand by.
While Peter collects the lorry strap,
Scott watches his back to make sure no vehicles jump the block.
We'll be releasing it in a minute, mate. Won't be long.
When traffic's at its peak,
a road closure can cause a jam that builds out a mile a minute,
so it's important the debris is cleared as quickly as possible.
So, we'll just slowly run the traffic away
now the debris is removed.
Traffic has been held up for only three minutes -
a small price to pay for keeping the A1 safe.
Job well done. Job very well done.
Traffic officers like Peter and Scott pick up nearly 2,500 obstacles
from along the A1 every year.
It's a tiny part of the role they play,
but they still have their fair share of critics.
Certain people maybe haven't perceived us well.
Some celebrities have maybe mentioned us as Day-Glo Wombles,
If them people could come out with us and see what we did...
We don't just put cones out and close lanes for the fun of it,
or for practice. We're doing it for a reason -
to help people or to make something safe.
I believe he has been offered to come out on a patrol with us
and he declined.
From stray animals to breakdowns and serious accidents,
traffic officers deal with more than 10,000 incidents
on the A1 every year.
With such an unpredictable job on the front line,
Peter and Scott know just how quickly things can change.
It's rush hour on the outskirts of Gateshead,
and reports are coming in of a major crash.
1-1-3, yeah, received. We're just approaching junction 68 now,
so we should have eyes on very shortly, over.
Within seconds, they are on the scene.
The police are there, all on the slip, so...
He says it's crossing... Across the full carriageway.
-Of the main carriageway, mate. Keep going.
A van driver has plunged down an embankment
and smashed into a lamp post,
the only thing that stopped him ploughing across the motorway.
He's being treated by paramedics for his injuries.
We can confirm that police and ambulance are on scene.
And with traffic already at a standstill,
Peter and Scott will be pushed to the limit
dealing with the aftermath.
Managing an incident like this can be fraught with danger,
but down the A1 in Durham,
even a simple cleaning job can mean risking life and limb.
Incident response workers Joe and Kev are continuing their crusade to
rid the A1 of unsightly graffiti.
It's a time-consuming and expensive job.
Right, A1 in, northbound, between junction 61 and 62.
This bridge has been riddled with slogans at every level.
And you can see, just by the graffiti,
we've got one on the wing wall, one on the wall itself,
one on the wall there and one up on the wing wall, there.
And there's actual graffiti on the bridge itself.
So, for him to do that,
he's either hung over the edge of the bridge
or he's leant out from the side.
It is dangerous, whichever way he's done that one.
They want to get rid of a tag left by a prolific artist,
but accessing it means going off-road.
And once there, Joe's using the graffiti artist's favourite tool
to blitz it.
Well, I've got a hold of the railings.
I've got a good hold on my feet, so I don't feel too bad.
I'm not frightened of heights, or anything.
We're never going to get it perfect,
but what we'll do is we'll just blot out as much as we can.
I mean, is it worth it?
But the next cover-up job is in an even more dangerous position,
just metres from speeding traffic.
We're right on a bend.
Heavy traffic nine metres away from the lane.
It's very, very dangerous.
I mean, you can hear the traffic going past us now.
A job like this needs teamwork and trust.
Start from here and work our way that way.
While Kev blitzes the graffiti, Joe acts as their eyes and ears.
If you don't have a lookout system, we've got nothing.
We won't know anything is happening until the last moment.
But if I've seen a car coming down the hard shoulder, I can tell Kev,
so it's just like an early warning system.
If a vehicle is coming that way, you would head that way
and get round the corner as quick as you can.
But with the sun dropping fast,
the situation is growing riskier with every passing minute.
This is under the shade.
The drivers are coming from strong sunlight farther up the road,
so it's getting to the point of the day now where we don't really want
to be on a corner on a hard shoulder.
We've got a large load coming down the motorway now.
Luckily enough, he's moved across.
If he can't get across, his overhang might be into the hard shoulder.
Luckily enough, we're OK, there.
But this is the sort of thing that happens.
With the light too low to continue,
Joe and Kev will return tomorrow to finish the job.
But with dozens of cases a year to tackle,
their war on A1 graffiti goes on.
Nearly 20 miles north on the A1 near Newcastle,
the emergency services have a much more serious battle on their hands.
This van has careered down a grass bank and smashed into a lamp post,
knocking it across two lanes of the road.
Traffic officers Peter Senior and Scott Wilson are battling through
the traffic to get to the incident.
We can position our vehicle in the middle of the road.
The traffic will make attempts to get out of our way and let us
filter through the middle. What you've got to be watching for now,
though, is the driver who doesn't see you coming.
A mile down the road,
police and firefighters are trying to work out how this van ended up in
such a bizarre position.
DISTANT SIRENS WAIL
Amazingly, motorcycle patrol officer Ian Scott was just metres away when
the van came plunging down the bank.
It started to come through the traffic.
As I was coming through, this white van just came down the slip,
hit the lamp post. It just blocked all three lanes off.
So, everybody just stopped.
It didn't actually clip any cars?
-No, it didn't.
-How lucky is that?
And at the time, this was three lanes of solid traffic,
so I don't know how the lamp post didn't hit anything.
Paramedics are treating the driver for his injuries.
Police don't know yet what caused the accident,
but it's already had a massive impact,
causing five miles of tailbacks.
With Scott and Peter now on the scene,
they've got to find a way of getting thousands of vehicles safely past.
The police have sorted the lamp post that was
across lanes one and two. We're going to move everything that is
currently in lane two into lane one,
so we can open lanes two and three, and help traffic keep flowing by.
Opening another lane should halve the problem.
So, now we've got two lanes of traffic available
for traffic to use.
It's just, they are a bit like sheep following each other at the moment,
they're just using lane three.
But once they've realised we've adjusted things,
they'll start dropping in.
We'll get a higher volume of traffic past the scene.
Scott is keen to discover just how the van has managed to end up in
such a bizarre position.
He appears to have gone up the V part where the two barriers are.
That's launched him in between the two posts.
I think he's been a bit lucky.
He only seems to have a cut on his nose,
and he's saying he's got a few neck problems now,
but it could've been a lot more serious than what it actually
appears to be at the minute.
It's been nearly an hour
since the crash brought the A1 to a standstill.
But finally, with the inside lane cleared,
Scott and Peter can fully reopen the road.
Hotel, Alpha, Charlie, Lima, 4-1, to Charlie, Tango, 4-1.
You can release the block. Our ETM's been taken in
and we've left the scene, over.
The stranded van will be dealt with later by a recovery team.
It's been a busy and varied shift for the pair,
which deserves a reward.
So, that was a job that we weren't expecting on a Friday, Pete.
I think it's about time for a kebab to get my fitness levels back up.
Get them calories back into you.
Peter's doner is going to have to be delayed, though,
because even at the end of the busiest shifts,
the routine jobs still need doing.
They way we work as a team, you know, it's all down to teamwork.
Scott does the washing and I just have a look
to make sure he's done it right.
It's cos I'm still younger, that's what it is.
I don't want him to wear himself out.
The youngest always cleans the car.
I know I look a bit younger than him, but...
The van driver was later questioned by police,
but no further action was taken.
And after returning to the bridge for a second day,
Joe finally covered up all of the graffiti.
Hopefully, I won't be back again.