Fleet of vehicles

Open data explains closed roads

Whatever did we do before the Freedom of Information Act (FoI)? I suppose we assumed that when a road was closed that they were doing something to it. Repairing it, perhaps, or painting more lines on it.

It turns out we were wrong, at least some of the time. Quite a frighteningly large amount of the time, actually, to judge by the figures unearthed by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM)

They put in an FoI request and got back the details on the total of 443,590 lane closures on motorways and primary A routes in England last year. Planned roadworks, it turns out, accounted for only 61,587 of them – a mere 14 per cent of the total.

In all, there were 44 reasons given. And while motorists may often be tempted, sometimes unfairly, to call “reasons” excuses, some of those cited by the IAM are downright hair-raising. One hundred and twenty two unsupervised children were wandering about the roads last year. But if you think that’s terrifyingly irresponsible, you should see what the adults got up to.

The most irresponsible, and potentially lethal, cases seem to have been the 152 occasions on which lane closures were required after objects were thrown on to the road. But there were plenty of examples of criminal stupidity, as well as criminality.

A staggering three per cent of all the closures were caused by pedestrians walking along lanes on motorways or primary A roads; that’s 12,759 people who seem not to have grasped the notion that traffic is dangerous. At least the 3,990 animals which got loose on the roads last year couldn’t be expected to know any better.

Some of the people who got behind the wheel were just as bafflingly inept; 567 shutdowns of the roads last year were cause by vehicles travelling on the wrong side of the road.

Frustratingly for politicians who might want to make some political capital out of this figure, we don’t know whether they were foreigners who didn’t realise we drive on the left, or just particularly stupid native British drivers.

Unsurprisingly, far and away the most common reason for lane closures was a breakdown – 41 per cent of the total, while road traffic collisions which didn’t involve injuries were the cause of a further seven per cent. The other biggest culprits were other miscellaneous obstructions and “administration”, most of which was made up of traffic officers conducting vehicle checks.

Of course, no survey of the reasons for road closures could omit that old favourite: the pothole, responsible for 5,700 incidents last year. Still, if you find a road has been closed, at least you may now be able to find out why.

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