M5 traffic incidents

The M5 motorway is notorious for accidents in the summer holidays as it is the major route for the rest of the UK to access the popular holiday regions of Devon and Cornwall, so traffic volume increases considerably when the schools close. On top of this, holidaymakers often tow caravans or trailers, or use roof racks with tents, canoes and other leisure equipment. This too can increase the risk of accidents.

Delays are common, especially around the two August bank holidays, but 2019 seems to be the worst year than anyone can remember – it seems like there is a crash on the M5 every other day. I’ve done a little light research to put some numbers to the congestion.

I gathered my data in a 100% scientific way, by searching on the Bristol Post for references to “M5 traffic” in the month of August 2019. This limits results to incidents that affected Bristol, or journeys to/from Bristol. It probably includes M5 incidents in Somerset, Bristol and Gloucestershire, and probably excludes incidents at the southern end in Devon and at the northern end in the Midlands.

In total, I found 23 incidents on the M5, of which there were 17 collisions. The remaining six incidents were three counts of congestion due to sheer volume of traffic, one severe weather incident, one breakdown, and one fire.

Looking just at the collisions, as we are not even out of August yet, that’s 17 collisions over just 27 days. The hunch that there had been an accident every couple of days turns out to be true – that’s an average one collision every 1.59 days.

Quite a few of the collisions occurred with more than one per day – in total there were 12 days with collisions. I don’t have any data on whether those accidents were related or just coincidental.

I haven’t done any research into the causes of these collisions, but it’s safe to say that human error played a role in these incidents. Even if human error did not cause the initial accident, there were several multi-car pileups where the most likely secondary cause is driving too close, or failing to react in time.

Autonomous cars are on the horizon, and in my opinion they can’t come soon enough – at least for motorway use. Motorways are the easiest type of driving to automate, as motorways are usually closed environments without pedestrians, animals, etc. They are also quite difficult for human drivers, who are easily bored and prone to distraction.

I’d be quite happy for motorways to be reserved for autonomous vehicles in the interests of safety – while still permitting human drivers in towns and on A-roads.

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