The hows, whys and whens of road closures

News from the Lincs Free Press and Spalding Guardian, spaldingtoday.co.uk, @LincsFreePress on Twitter

News from the Lincs Free Press and Spalding Guardian, spaldingtoday.co.uk, @LincsFreePress on Twitter

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My mum always said: “It’s better to arrive five minutes late in this world, than 30 years early in the next’.

Every day motorists take unnecessary risks on our roads, overtaking recklessly to get one car in front, or ignoring road closures or diversions, thinking they refer to everyone else, but not to them. Far too often, the consequences are tragic.

Last week, I’m sure that drivers’ patience was stretched to the limit when there were two collisions on the A16 Spalding by-pass at the same time.

This was compounded further by the ongoing road closures at Weston Hills, due to the crashed F15 fighter jet.

One evening last week we also had road closures in the South Parade area of Spalding, while specialist police officers dealt with a firearms incident.

And, of course, on top of all that, Spalding is littered with road improvement works and upgrade work on our level crossings. Many of us will have been affected by one or more of these closures this past week.

This all adds to the stress of driving. The problem is, some drivers’ attitudes and their reactions to stress alter considerably when they get behind the wheel.

Twenty years’ policing experience tells me that a huge influence on road safety can be a driver’s attitude towards unexpected delays and their resultant behaviour.

Many years ago I was at a road closure that I shall never forget. It was early Christmas morning and three people had died in a collision on the A17.

Between me and any oncoming traffic was a line of cones and blue flashing lights and a large sign. I was only there for a few minutes to relieve an officer that needed a toilet break. My role was simply to provide a safety barrier for the investigators.

I glanced up to see a car come out of a side road, towards me. The driver stopped at the cones. They didn’t get out but just sat there and then flashed their headlights at me and beeped their horn. They then began to pull forward to try and squeeze through the cones.

I went up to the driver and politely enquired what their intentions were. Although, it may have come out as: “Oi! What do you think you’re doing?”

The driver wound their window down and asked: “Is the road closed officer?” Sigh. The sign next to the cones was fairly vague and not very easy to understand. It said: “ROAD CLOSED.”

After some discussion I established that the driver lived locally andthey even knew an alternative route they could take to get home.

However, they sat there indignantly berating me about the road closure: how inconvenient it was and that we had no right to close the road on Christmas morning.

In another situation, many years ago I stood at a road closure at a firearms incident in Spalding. Not only had I coned the road but I had also put tape blue and white tape across the road and footpaths.

“Road Closed” signs were again out and blue lights were flashing everywhere.

A pedestrian walked along the footpath, and started to lift the tape. I shouted for him to stop. “Why are you stopping me?” he asked. “It’s a free country and I can go where I like.” I pointed out to him that a little further down the road there were specialist officers dealing with a man with mental health problems who reportedly had a gun.

He still wanted to walk down the street because it was his right.

Every police officer in the country will recognise these scenarios. I’m sure there is a section of our community who believe my officers close roads just for the fun of it and then sit around the corner sniggering at those who are delayed. They refuse to abide by lawfully placed signs, ignore warnings and put themselves and others at risk.

Whenever I arrive at the scene of a road collision, I will always close the road for a few minutes, while I assess the scene. This means I can concentrate on what’s before me without having to look over my shoulder for oncoming traffic. Usually we can fairly quickly work out whether the road will have to be fully closed for a forensic investigation or whether we can open all of the road or at least one carriageway.

If the road is going to be closed for a long time we ask for the council’s highways department to put up diversions. They usually arrive within 45 minutes. This means that for the first 45 minutes it can be chaotic. The officers that know the area best are usually the first on scene and dealing with the collision. This means it is often officers from outside the area that have to help with traffic control, so they can’t always advise on detours. Please be patient.

Do we take too long to deal with collisions? Could we be more efficient? Well, we could simply clear the road and let everyone carry on their merry way. However that wouldn’t serve justice and, in the event of a fatality, it doesn’t serve the requirements of the coroner. We do all that we can to secure all the evidence we can from the road, the vehicles, the victims and the witnesses. It takes time.

Depending on the circumstances one investigation may take much longer to deal with than another. This is the same for the F15 crash investigation in Weston Hills.

Some of the military personnel on the road closures at Weston Hills told me that they received abuse from a minority of motorists (not local villagers) when prevented from entering the cordon area on Mill Drove North. Shame on those motorists. Yes, it means you couldn’t use the Mill Drove rat-run, and yes, it meant your journey was longer than usual. But remember what my mum said. She was a very clever woman, my mum.