Motorway Congestion

More than 1,700 closures this year

7 October 2009

traffic queing on a motorway

Motorways and main roads closed more than 1,700 times this year

Political parties should address congestion and road closures if they want to win the support of 32 million drivers, according to the AA President addressing a Conservative Party transport fringe meeting with Shadow Transport Secretary, Teresa Villiers MP.

Edmund King, AA President, argues that there should be greater efforts to fight congestion as it harms commerce, climate change and costs. He will also point to an ongoing AA study3 that shows that motorways and main roads were closed due to accidents and incidents at least 1700 times in the first eight months of this year. This equates to over 5000 hours or 208 days of closures.

Top Ten Motorways closed(Jan-Aug 2009)

M25 (closed for 206 hours)
M1 (189 hours)
M6 (179 hours)
M5 (153 hours)
M40 (124 hours)
A1(M) (74 hours)
M4 (73 hours)
M62 (53 hours)
M2 (48 hours)
M11 (41 hours)

Other notable closures outside the top ten were in Scotland, the M74 (29 hours) and M8 (25 hours).

The M32 near Bristol suffered from 12 hours of closure as did the M3.

Recent incidents include the M40 closure due to the discovery of a body and M5 closure due to a suicide1.


The AA is calling for measures to improve the situation:

  • A review of decision-making process to close motorways after accidents. Traffic management should be a consideration
  • Speeding up procedures to remove crashed vehicles
  • More technology to speed up forensic tests and accident investigation
  • Variable Message Signs at junctions to warn of closure ahead (to avoid drivers joining a closed motorway)
  • Alternative routes signalled in advance
  • Traffic on closed motorway to be diverted via central reservation onto other carriageway or turned around
  • Emergency provisions and more information for those stuck – water, blankets to be provided
  • Highways Agency radio to be available on AM and not just digital radio

What drivers say

Drivers remain unhappy with traffic congestion. AA/Populus panel research2 amongst 17,500 drivers shows that:

72% disagree with the statement that 'the government and local councils recognise that people want to own and use cars and are doing what they can to facilitate that'

When asked if new roads should be built or major road improvements carried out:

  • in towns and cities, 67% agree (27% strongly), 11% disagree, 22% neither
  • on main roads in rural areas, 66% agree (27% strongly),14% disagree, 20% neither
  • to by-pass communities, 78% agree (37% strongly) 8% disagree, 15% neither
  • to make roads safer, 82% agree (42% strongly) 6% disagree, 13% neither

71% of panel members agreed (36% strongly) that new motorways and 'strategic roads' – which link cities, areas of population, ports and airports – should be built, 14% disagreed with this statement, 15% neither agreed or disagreed;


Commenting, Edmund King, AA President, said: "We need to combat the chaos of congestion as it harms commerce, costs and climate change. This does not need to cost the earth. We must fight against delays caused by un-co-ordinated street works and road works. We must remove pinch points and redundant traffic lights.

"We must be smarter and address the growing problem of motorway and main road closures. In the first eight months of this year motorways and main roads have been closed more than 1700 times with a combined time closed of more than 5000 hours. This does not include weather related incidents or planned closures. Whilst we understand that fatalities must be fully investigated the increase, duration and traffic management of closures must be addressed.

"Whilst new high speed rail links are seen as the panacea, they come at a high price and do little or nothing to combat traffic congestion. We need to remember that rail caters for just 6 or 7% of passenger journeys so we cannot overlook problems on the roads."


The AA highlights other ways to reduce congestion and emissions:

Traffic lights,
Pinch points,
Encourage cycling,
Park & ride,
Bus routes,
Parking policy, and
Red routes

Despite problems on the roads 82% say they still enjoy driving and the freedom and flexibility the car affords them and 79% could not imagine life without the car.

The AA believes that at a time of recession the UK should embark on a major programme of road 'renewal' to create jobs and ensure the predicated congestion on UK roads in the future does not harm the UK's economic restoration.


1Recent motorway closures:

M40 (3 October 2009)

A man's body found on the M40 motorway near the Warwickshire/Oxfordshire border.

The northbound section from junction 11 for Banbury, Oxfordshire, to junction 12 for Gaydon, Warwickshire, was shut for about 12 hours after the discovery.

Police said the victim was aged 20-30, had short-brown hair and was of medium build and urged anyone who could help identify him to come forward.

The Warwickshire force said the death was being treated as unexplained.

M5 (28 August 2009)

28 mile tailbacks

Traffic on the M5 was brought to a standstill for more than five hours after police closed part of the motorway because of an apparent suicide bid.

Police negotiators and a man were locked in a stand-off at Avonmouth Bridge from 1pm. At around 7.30pm the man jumped into the water. Coastguards have recovered his body.

The closure of the northbound carriageway between junction 19 at Portishead and junction 18 at Avonmouth caused traffic queues to build up quickly and before long the tailback stretched to 28 miles. Many people missed flights from Bristol airport and the start of their holiday.

2AA/Populus panel survey of 17,481 AA members conducted between 14 March and 9 April

3Ongoing AA study into Motorway and Road Closures using Trafficmaster and Highways Agency data.


5 October 2009