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Anyone caught in a traffic tailback on a closed trunk road in Lochaber immediately after a serious or fatal road accident should expect to be stuck for at least four or five hours, possibly even longer, while police crash investigators do their job.
That was the warning from Sergeant Nick Hough of Lochaber Police when he attended last week’s monthly meeting of Kilmallie Community Council.
Sergeant Hough’s comments on road closures following road accidents were in response to resident Roddy Mainland who told how, following one of three serious road accidents on the A830 in August between Fort William and Mallaig, it took him five hours to get home.
Mr Mainland said: ‘I ran into the queue at about 7pm on my way home from Mallaig and did not get home till about midnight.’
Sergeant Hough explained there were now three specialist police crash investigators based at the police station in Fort William, with the main crash investigation unit and a specialist vehicle and equipment based at Dingwall.
He told the meeting that, while a crash investigator might have to travel from Dingwall to help with an incident in Lochaber depending on who was on duty and that the specialist vehicle also often had to travel down to Lochaber, this only took around an hour when the police used flashing blue lights.
‘What takes the time is the setting up of the investigation, recording all the data, noting all aspects of the debris and taking measurements including those involving skid patterns to fully establish the circumstances so you can provide some sort of explanation to the loved ones of someone who has been seriously injured or worse, killed, and to ensure you have all the information in case someone is to be charged as a result,’ he said.
‘The initial moments following a crash are about preserving life and once the ambulance crews have done their work and are away from the scene, the road is generally closed, other than for emergency vehicles.
‘Geography is against us here. We are extremely limited when it comes to providing alternative routes to by-pass an accident scene.’
Sergeant Hough said August had been a particularly bad month in the area for serious road accidents, with two involving fatalities.
‘On average we probably have five serious accidents a year, but they mean the operation of the whole road network being upended.
‘You are always going to end up with some sort of situation where travel is disrupted. Remember also that the clean up of debris from the road can take a couple of hours on top of everything else.’
He explained that during the summer 70 per cent of vehicles on the area’s roads were non-local.
‘So while social media can provide information quickly about accidents and subsequent road closures, non-local drivers often don’t have any way of knowing what is happening.
‘If the incident is a fatal or serious accident, you have to figure on an eight or nine-hour window for the road involved to be closed.’
Asked if more specialist crash investigation equipment based locally would help cut down the time involved, Sergeant Hough did not feel it would be an appropriate use of resources.
‘You could lobby for that but you’re only talking about saving an hour or an hour and a half, plus we can always access more equipment from Dumbarton if need be and that is just an hour and half away as well.
‘There’s really no way round it. A road is going to be closed for four to five hours, if not longer.
‘If you have ever had to speak to someone who has been bereaved by a road traffic accident, it gives you a better perspective on whether sitting in a car for four or five hours listening to music is really that much of an inconvenience.’
The long traffic tailback as a result of a fatal accident on the A830 near Glenfinnan last month. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, The Write Image.
NO F36 Glenfinnan crash