Press release

Tackling £1 billion cost of motorway closures

Stategy unveiled to drive down the cost of motorway closures.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


A government strategy to tackle congestion caused by motorway closures and drive down the £1 billion annual cost to the economy was unveiled today (19 May 2011) by Roads Minister, Mike Penning, ahead of a national summit.

The minister also announced the launch of a £3 million fund for police forces to purchase laser scanning technology to speed up of the investigation process and incident clear up times.

At a high-level summit in London today (19 May 2011), the Roads Minister, Home Office, Highways Agency (HA) and police, fire and ambulance chiefs will commit to a 10 point action plan.

This will help ensure that closures take place only when they are absolutely necessary and for the minimum amount of time. This will help keep traffic moving, supporting economic growth for the future prosperity of the country.

It follows a joint review of investigation and closure procedures for motorway incidents - led by the Department for Transport (DfT), working in partnership with the Home Office, HA and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) - published today on the DfT website.

Mike Penning said:

There is nothing more frustrating than being stuck in a traffic jam for hours on end. But even worse than that is the shocking £1 billion cost of those lost hours for our economy. That is why we are determined to improve clear-up times following accidents so we can get our motorways re-opened as quickly as possible.

Last year there were more than 18,000 full or partial motorway closures lasting a total of more than 20,000 hours. I recognise that, where serious incidents have occurred, closures on the motorway may be needed to ensure the safety of those at the scene and the travelling public. I also understand the importance of ensuring a safe and effective investigation.

However, I believe much more can be done to ensure incidents are managed effectively, efficiently and consistently.

I am also pleased to announce DfT funding of around £3 million for laser scanning technology that can be used by the police for surveying incident scenes. Recent trials by the police and HA have demonstrated that this can make a real difference in speeding up the investigation process.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley (ACPO lead for Roads Policing) said:

This review has highlighted a number of innovative ways in which such closures can be minimised. The national summit will enable that process to begin, streamlining the response to such disruption.

We will continue to work closely with government and all those involved to ensure that the right balance is struck between conducting a thorough and comprehensive investigation whilst enabling our critical motorway infrastructure to return to normal as soon as possible.

The 10 point action plan, being formally agreed today, will see:

  • ACPO, in consultation with other incident management responders, review the ‘Road death investigation manual’ to ensure it strikes an appropriate balance between carrying out a thorough investigation of an incident and keeping traffic moving
  • DfT/HA and ACPO explore the use of new technology to help speed up incident management, including consideration of the wider roll out of laser scanners to police forces and identifying/assessing future technologies
  • police training revised to improve officers’ understanding around the impacts that lengthy closure procedures can have on road users and the economy
  • regular multi-agency training exercises to test a wide range of motorway closure scenarios carried out - and best practice guidance developed from this
  • particular focus given to examining the factors which contribute to long delays - and developing guidance to ensure motorways are not closed any longer than necessary
  • DfT explore the role of police, fire, ambulance, HA staff and recovery agents in more detail to identify and agree specific issues which need to be addressed to improve incident durations
  • the HA carry out further analysis to help understand the causes of regional variations in motorway closure durations and see what lessons can be learnt
  • the HA examine how it can improve the information it provides to road users to alert them to incidents - and provide better journey advice to keep queues to a minimum
  • a new performance monitoring framework introduced and performance data on incident durations and clear up times published to track progress over time
  • best practice case studies regularly developed by the HA and shared with all incident management responders

A large proportion of the recommendations will be delivered by the end of this year, with the remainder by the end of 2012. This will help to ensure that real changes can start to be made as soon as possible.

Work has already begun on the detailed planning and scoping of the work needed to implement each recommendation. A steering group will be established to ensure continued commitment to and progress on developing and implementing the recommendations.

Notes to editors

The review was completed in January 2011 in line with the DfT business plan commitment.

A further DfT business plan commitment (PDF, 459KB) to have implemented measures to reduce congestion caused by incidents by December 2012.

The figure of the cost to the economy is a best estimate presented for indicative purposes only, to demonstrate the scale of the issue. It has been derived using basic calculations from the number of closure incidents (over 18,000) which occurred in 2009 to 2010 and available incident data from 2010 to 2011. It has also been cross referenced with previous estimates which have outlined that the total cost of congestion on the Highways Agency network is £3 billion, 25% of which is caused by incidents. Going forward more work will need to be done to seek to produce a more directly correlated cost to actual incident durations.

Further guidance and details on accessing the grant fund will be outlined for police forces in due course.

Those formally agreeing the action plan at today’s summit are as follows:

  • Chief Constable Phil Gormley (ACPO Roads Policing Lead)
  • Graham Dalton, Chief Executive Highways Agency
  • Simon Sheldon -Wilson Director of Traffic Management - Highways Agency
  • Assistant Chief Fire Officer Peter Hazeldine Representing the Chief Fire Officers Association
  • Steve Wheaton, Regional Head of Specialist Operations - Ambulance Service
  • DfT/Home Office officials

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Published 19 May 2011