Yesterday afternoon at 16:09, in Surrey, a sales rep in a red Vauxhall Vectra shunted a plumber driving a white van on the middle lane of the M25. Twenty years ago, the following cars would have quickly stopped to allow the protagonists to pull over to the hard shoulder.
Twenty years ago, a heated exchange would ensue. Then both parties would calm down and exchange insurance details. Twenty years ago, the white van driver would resume his journey while the Vectra owner waited for a tow from The AA to a local garage to replace his pierced radiator.
In 2007, Surrey Traffic Police handle minor traffic incidents very differently. The busiest motorway in England is completely closed while Surrey Traffic Police determine precisely how many lanes need to be closed in order to handle this earth shattering incident.
Eventually, after 19 minutes analysis involving 7 officers and a Chief Superintendent, Surrey Traffic Police decide that, in the interests of public safety, just two lanes need to be closed so the outer lane is slowly re-opened on Britain’s busiest motorway. This is now the start of the rush-hour so the queues are building fast but Surrey Traffic Police are completely oblivious to this element of the unfolding drama.
Surrey Traffic Police continue to call for reinforcements from other regions while they carefully and thoroughly evaluate this very dangerous situation. Both drivers are instructed to remain in their vehicles while paramedics are summoned. Counsellors are invited to diagnose and remedy post-traumatic stress disorder.
Chemical engineers are dispatched from a secret government research laboratory to conduct experiments on the liquid spilled on to the carriageway. A high priority call to building contractors is made in case the roadway surface needs to be replaced which would mean a very welcome overnight closure (and overtime). A newly qualified cone engineer arrives to check no plastic cones have been damaged.
Early evening is the height of the rush-hour. The tailback is now 6 miles in both directions and growing. The M3, A30 and surrounding roads are now also affected. Four hours after the original incident, 8pm sees a shift change for Surrey Traffic Police. Three policemen volunteer for overtime to see this major incident through to a successful conclusion. Another decides he will miss Dragon’s Den so fires up the siren and speeds off at 70 mph down the hard shoulder.
The chemical engineer decides the liquid from the car radiator is water with a small element of anti-freeze. Surrey Traffic Police decide to wait a further 25 minutes to let the luke warm water cool down. The driver is cautioned and a sample of windscreen washer fluid is sent for analysis.
All three lanes of the motorway are now completely gridlocked so, unsurprisingly, The AA recovery vehicle can not get through. Surrey Traffic Police decide to use their powers to expedite the situation and summon their own recovery vehicles instead. Due to operational difficulties, they are summoned from Birmingham.
Eventually, at 21:15, the middle lane is carefully re-opened and a trickle of traffic starts to flow. A policeman makes calming gestures to the impatient drivers and is met with a volley of V-signs.
After another two hours, the motorway is fully re-opened and the UK can breathe again. Thanks to Surrey Traffic Police for averting yet another major traffic incident and keeping Britain’s roads safe.
Last year, I went to Norway and was enjoying a scenic five hour drive from Bergen to the fjords through a multitude of dark, narrow, winding tunnels carved through solid rock. Suddenly, the traffic came to a halt shortly before the entrance to another tunnel
To my horror, I could make out a collision between a car and a coach with a solitary policeman in attendance. As I waited, I consulted my Phillips Map of Europe; when this tunnel was closed, we would have to make a diversion which would turn a pleasant scenic 5 hour drive into a nightmare, 12 hour drive.
After 7 minutes, a breakdown truck arrived and towed the car out of the tunnel. The coach then exited the tunnel and parked in a layby. The policeman ran (take note Surrey Traffic Police - yes he ran) to his patrol car, fetched a brush, ran (yes ran) into the tunnel and frantically brushed debris and glass to the side.
As he emerged from the tunnel, he frantically waved his brush at cars and lorries to get moving quickly in an effort to get the traffic flowing again as soon as humanly possible.