September 9, 2013
Usually you can be forgiven for tuning out of radio traffic reports unless a familiar road catches your ear. However on the 5th September 2013 a road accident at Sheppey Crossing involved so many vehicles, and caused such devastation, that it cannot fail to have caught the attention of every listener.
News coverage described a 130 vehicle pile up on the A249 Sheppey Crossing bridge and the subsequent photographs and video footage revealed the true scale of a horrific road accident. The scene of row upon row of mangled vehicles made it all the more miraculous that although there were several serious injuries, there were no fatalities.
A number of possible causes of the accident have been suggested, but can we be sure there was a single cause or were a number of factors involved, and what if anything can we learn from the accident to prevent similar occurrences in future?
Headlights and Tailgating
Fog seems to have played the largest part in the accident, with reports confirming that thick fog had descended in the area and visibility was poor.
The national speed limit applies on dual carriageways, with cars allowed to travel at up to 70 mph. So suddenly finding yourself driving in thick fog on a fairly fast road would be treacherous enough, but worryingly it's also been reported that a number of drivers had not activated their head or fog lights. While it's not against the law to not activate fog lights, in misty weather they can be a vital safety feature.
The AA have also been critical of bad driving and asserted that vehicles were driving far too close to each other. The main thing drivers need to remember is to not 'tail gate' (travel too close to the vehicle in front). Such habits are not only dangerous but are also covered by new careless driving legislation and offenders could face a fixed penalty notice.
Poor Road Lighting?
As far back as 2006, the year in which the bridge was first opened; local MP Gordon Henderson and the Chief Constable of Kent police had previously raised concerns about the lighting on the bridge. However a spokesman for the Highways Agency confirmed a safety audit was carried out on the crossing a year after its completion:
"This audit concluded that accidents on the A249 had decreased since the completion of the scheme and that the accident rate was below the national average for that type of road"
Driving tips to keep in mind
A full investigation into the accident is now underway but it may be sometime before an explanation is clear. However there are some driving practices we should all keep in mind as the winter months approach:
* Always use headlights when visibility is reduced - generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres (328 feet) or the length of a football pitch, headlights should be activated.
* When heavy rain, snow or fog are present, visibility can deteriorate in a matter of seconds. In these conditions drivers must travel only as fast as conditions allow and maintain greater distance with the vehicle in front.
* If your vehicle is fitted with front or rear fog lights, use them whenever visibility is adversely affected by conditions such as mist or fog.