Is this picture worth a million pounds (or three million?)

This week’s competition is to estimate the REAL cost of a motorway accident like the one shown above.

Not a significant accident that would make it on to News At Ten you understand. Just a bog-standard everyday kind of motorway smash that we have all got used to in this country.

In fact, accidents like this happen every week without anyone taking much notice – unless you are directly involved or caught up in resulting traffic jam that is.

We reckon that amongst our regular readers there are plenty of civil engineers, accident investigators and other road traffic professionals who, using skill and judgement, should be able to calculate the cost of this accident to the nearest ten thousand pounds or so.

Can you help cost this incident for us?

If you can, maybe we can make our case to the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, with a little more certainty.

Every year there are two hundred so called “crossover’ incidents in the UK – just like the one shown above which took place on the M69 last week. When a car or lorry goes through the central barrier it finds itself head-on to oncoming traffic on the other carriageway. It is therefore no surprise that over 40 people die in such incidents every year in the UK alone. These statistics are already in the public domain.

What is less well known, even when there is no loss of human life, is the real cost of these cross-over incidents.

Obviously the manpower cost of all the rescue teams involved is quite staggering, so, if you are not a civil engineer but would would like to enter our competition anyway, here’s a few tips to get you going.

Start off by counting the number of people you can see in yellow high visibility jackets. Mmmm – quite a few eh? And the estimated cost of a motorway police officer per hour is ……. ?

Next, look at those police vehicles in the photograph. From the registration plates you can see that each and every one is a brand new model, straight off the production line. BMW estate cars and 4 x4 X5s – nice vehicles eh and not cheap either.

Don’t forget to add ambulance vehicles and recovery vehicles into your list, with crews of course. Then add hospital costs for the poor guy they pull from the wreckage and other innocent motorists on the other carriageway.

Now, look at the picture again but this time look on the opposite side of the road. You will find a lot of money being spent here – but this time the cost is harder to quantify – and this is where the real skill and judgement comes into play.

Consider all those drivers sitting for hours in queues waiting for the motorway to be opened again.

How many of those drivers are professionals? How many doctors or captains of industry are caught up in that traffic jam? How many HGV drivers are running up massive fuel and overtime bills – not to mention the cost of missed ferries or late delivery fees at the other end?

No doubt there are quite a few plumbers and electricians, builders and kitchen fitters and a host of other trades, all losing money and letting down their clients as they sit patiently waiting for the rescue and recovery services to clear up the mess. Then there’s all those regular commuters late for work, the ubiquitous reps in their Mondeo estates, the shoppers and the tourists, the delivery vans and the courier companies – more missed appointments and more cancelled jobs.

How many hours are lost in the office? How much production time is lost?

What is the real cost to the economy? Do you know the answer?

We really want to know so if you can price any of these items we would love to hear from you.

The real experts out there will also know that there are some hidden costs that never appear in photographs like this. Like the number of motorway workers killed whilst attending the scene of the accident. Do you know how many ambulances are involved in subsequent collisions as they race back to the hospital? Do you know how many secondary accidents there are on the opposite carriageway as drivers lose concentration whilst rubber-necking the primary accident scene?

Meanwhile, we must point out that there is ONE thing in this photograph that hasn’t had any money spent on it at all and that’s the very thing that caused the problem in the first place – the steel barrier on the central reserve.

Much of the steel on Britain’s motorways is now either past its sell by date or unfit for purpose.

Steel barrier like this was introduced in the 1960s and is designed to contain a vehicle weighing up to 1.5 tonnes. That’s great if you drive a Morris Minor – very slowly.

The problem is, even a medium sized family saloon weighs more than that these days. As for lorries and HGVs – forget it. They will slice through that steel like a hot knife through butter.

Whilst some attempts have been made to replace this old steel barrier with modern concrete safety barrier, the take-up of this new technology has been woeful over the last five years with only 10 km of concrete safety barrier being installed across the entire UK network. In contrast, concrete safety barrier will contain a vehicle weighing up to 13.5 tonnes and so far there hasn’t been a single crossover incident where the steel has been replaced with concrete barrier.

And what happens when an accident like this takes place?

Well, at great cost to everybody, the Highways Agency rock up, sweep up the glass and replace the damaged steel barrier with ….. yes, you guessed it, MORE steel barrier. So you had better add that into your calculations whilst you are at it. Anyone out there know the cost of a MAC team repairing a section of flattened barrier at two a.m?

It is perfectly clear that the economics simply don’t add up. Not when concrete safety barrier costs £80 a metre.

If the coalition government is serious about its commitment to improving the existing road network AND saving money in the process – the answer is right there in front of your very eyes.

Stop repairing something that is clearly not fit for purpose and replace it as soon as possible with something that is.

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