Open and Transparent Quality Mark 2016/17 and 2017/18

Taking an innovative approach to keeping our highways clear

In her latest blog, Alison talks about road closures and the new Road Collision Innovation Challenge.

Two incidents in the past fortnight have reminded me of just how vulnerable our transport infrastructure in the South West can be. The first, a collision on the M5 last Tuesday (March 26), brought traffic to a standstill on the M5 near Exeter as the northbound carriageway closed for several hours during the busiest time of the day. Two days later the main railway line between Penzance and Paddington was shut for hours after a tragic incident in which a man lost his life.

The ensuing problems on the rest of the road network after both incidents displayed just how few options people have when one of our important rail or road links becomes unavailable. In Devon we’re overly reliant on the motorway and a few A roads. Cornwall doesn’t have a motorway and its roads are extremely vulnerable to closures.

Keeping our highways network clear and operating effectively means people are less likely to be involved in further collisions, because they are travelling on familiar routes which have better safety records. It also supports business and the economy. If people don’t get to work on time and deliveries are delayed we all suffer.

Soon the summer months will be upon us and we want visitors to experience safe and hassle-free journeys in our part of the world. The combined value of tourism to Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is close to £3bn a year, if tourists spend too much of their annual leave in traffic jams they might well decide not to return.

The cost to the wider economy of road closures is staggering. According to the Highways Agency a two-hour delay on a busy stretch of motorway following a two-lane closure is £135,360. It stands at £1,488,960 for a three-lane closure lasting up to four hours.

Of course, our first priority must be to reduce the number of collisions on our roads, and through extra enforcement with extra roads police officers and initiatives like Community Speedwatch.

Unfortunately though, serious accidents will occur and when they do we need to ensure that evidence is gathered to a standards that will satisfy the exacting criteria of our courts, and that it is done effectively and efficiently. New technology has the ability to speed up this process to the benefit of all.

I’m pleased that my office, in partnership with Devon & Cornwall Police, Dorset Police and the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, is helping to find imaginative and technological solutions to the problem of gathering evidence at the scene of serious road traffic incidents in a timely manner.

This month we are launching a nation-wide competition to find an innovative solution to cut the amount of time needed to capture evidence at road collision investigations in half.

The Road Collision Innovation Challenge – joint funded by PCCs – offers a contract of up to £200,000 to the winning solution. It has been launched in collaboration with Exeter City Futures, a campaign group which looks to technology and data to solve transport problems.

The three start-ups selected to be part of this competition will complete a 12-week immersion programme with Devon and Cornwall Police and Dorset Police. This will include face-to-face engagements, workshops and in-field testing with forensic collision investigators across Devon, Cornwall and Dorset to help teams develop, test and refine their solution to the challenge.

Devon and Cornwall Police has a good track record of using technology to address policing challenges. The force was the first in the country to have a dedicated drone unit and continues to lead the way in this arena. Officers call on the drone team to locate missing people, police crowds and assist our colleagues in the fire and rescue service.

These “eyes in the sky” cost less to deploy than the National Police Air Service helicopter and mean police officers can be used elsewhere. A cliff-top search, for example, can be conducted with a drone rather than multiple police officers, meaning those resources can be used elsewhere. It might well be that they have a greater sole to play at the scene of road traffic collisions.  

The Roads Collision Innovation Challenge is seeking to recruit some bright people to solving a serious police problem. I very much look forward to hearing about the solutions it generates.

Details of how to apply for the competition can be found at www.exetercityfutures.com/rcic.

Alison Hernandez