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A Scarring Year For The M40

Accidents on the south Buckinghamshire stretch of the M40 have more than doubled since the year 2000, fire fighters revealed this week at the end of a shocking 12 months of tragedy. This month’s newsletter delves into the motorway’s 2007/08 reign of terror and asks why is this particular section of motorway so hazardous, and what can be done to put a stop to the accidents?

An influx of horrific accidents began one year ago on May 31 2007, when three people were tragically killed and eleven were injured in a three-vehicle pile up. The mother of one of those killed this week added to the huge number of public complaints by branding the M40 ‘disgusting’ and insisting there should be a far greater police presence on the motorway. Although we have seen these horrendous incidents unfold on the M40, to date there has been no clear defined reason as to why so many occur on this relatively smooth and clearly marked section of motorway.

Police and road management groups say the road should not be to blame for the series of collisions on the M40. James Wright, press officer for the Highways Agency, was first to jump in at the motorway’s defence, stating: “We said last year that we did take a look into accidents on the M40, particularly the stretch just going into London, and particularly any incident that results in death or serious injury. It (accidents) tends to be caused by things like driver error, excess speed, things like that”.

Meanwhile Dan Campsall, spokesman for Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership added that the number of fatalities in the road over the last 12 months did not reflect the safety record of the road as a whole. He said: “The statistics are unrepresentative of that stretch of road in the last few years – in a sense it was a freak peak”.

However, Beaconsfield Fire Station describes the M40 as the “principal life risk” in the area it covers. Statistics from Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service showed that during 2007 the service were summoned to 75 traffic collisions – a significant jump from 2006, which saw firefighters tackle 54 collisions. And the figures for 2000 show there were just 31 traffic collisions that the service was called to. A rapid escalation indeed.

The clear rise in M40 accidents on the south Buckinghamshire stretch has caused spiralling anger with motorists and local residents of nearby Loudwater, Beaconsfield and High Wycombe. Ken Edwards, spokesman for M40 Chiltern Environmental Group, said: “Continued reassurances from the Highways Agency and police that the road itself is not associated become less and less convincing as time goes by”.

Statistics from 2007/08 show that there were 7 fatalities on this infamous stretch of road. Lets take a look at the past 12 months on the south Buckinghamshire stretch of the M40:

  • May 31st 2007 As mentioned above, a seven car pile up near junction 3 at Loudwater in which 3 people were killed. This incident involved 30 year-old Colin Ledger’s truck ploughing through the central barrier and colliding with oncoming traffic.
  • June 4th 2007 Richard Heale, 35, from Birmingham was killed and several other people were injured in a five car pile up near junction 2 at Beaconsfield.
  • October 7th 2007 Rajesh Patel, 27, from London, died in the early hours of the morning after a four car pile up half a mile from junction 3.
  • November 29th 2007 Mother of two, Helen Kelly, 39, from Oxfordshire was killed after a seven car pile up near Beaconsfield just after the evening rush hour.
  • November 30th 2007 Kathryn Light, 47, of Muswell Hill died when her Land Rover Freelander collided with a stationary Iveco lorry on the hard shoulder at junction 4, Handy Cross at approx 4:25pm.
  • January 3rd 2008 Gerald Sharpe, 67, of Camberley was driving a Mazda which hit an RAC van on the hard shoulder, shortly before junction 1A.
  • April 28th 2008 Arthur Frampton, 50, from Dagenham was killed after his Mercedes Sprinter van overturned just before junction 3 at Loudwater at approx 9:20am.

Sue Aitkens, the mother of Colin Ledger who was killed during the cross-over incident on May 31st 2007 said: “I think the police should have a permanent place there with the amount of accidents there are. When they do have police patrols, motorists do tend to slow down”.

Motorists have individually complained to the Highways Agency saying they believe poor lane discipline is to blame on this particularly unpopular stretch of motorway. This may be due to the fact that the motorway divides itself into 4 lanes, which in some motorists’ eyes, becomes a free-for-all and reminiscent of a corporate go-karting event.

Mr Wright from the Highways Agency added that the agency has made funding bids for safety packages, including measures such as chevrons on the road surface to encourage drivers to keep a safe distance from each other. There have also been calls to improve the safety between lanes, by replacing the metal barriers with concrete-step barriers instead. In the meantime, if motorists could pick up a copy of the Highway Code for £2.49 and recognise that the outside lanes are for overtaking only, we could all be on the right track to a safer journey on the M40.

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