The head of the independent transport watchdog has called for an urgent review of the way drivers are kept informed and looked after during suspected terror incidents on motorways.
The call follows two incidents in a week where the M1 and then the M3 were closed for hours, leaving drivers trapped for long periods.
In a blog post Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said that Highways England and the police “have some questions to answer about how these and previous events have been handled”.
Following the latest incident on Saturday, when M3 was closed for nearly 12 hours because of “potential hazardous material” on the road, Mr Smith said, “Highways England, the local authority and the police have a duty of care to trapped road users. Today’s tailbacks follow Tuesday’s jams on the M1.
“Yes, in the current security climate any potential terror incident must be taken seriously. However, an urgent review is needed to improve information and welfare arrangements for motorists. Winter is coming. These incidents may become more common. Action is needed to help road users.”
Mel Clarke, customer service director at Highways England, said: “We worked hard on Saturday to give drivers accurate, up to date information about conditions on the M3 and to keep traffic moving as much as possible. We set up a diversion as soon as the closure had been implemented, and we set signs and signals across our network to warn drivers on approach about the closure. All this was in place by 5am.
“Some drivers were already on the M3 when the incident occurred and became stuck between the incident scene and the last available exit. We worked intensively to escort these drivers back up the motorway so they could leave at the previous exit and we had all trapped traffic cleared before 6am.
“This was a serious incident and it was important that the police were able to conduct a thorough investigation. We believe we did everything we could do in the circumstances, but we routinely review our performance and will ensure we act on any opportunities to improve.”