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The story behind a motorway collision

It's often difficult for people caught up in traffic jams on the motorway to understand why the road has to be closed for what appears to be a long time.

We work hard to minimise disruption on the road network but as the timeline below shows, it's important for us and the family of the injured person(s) to understand exactly what happened.


At around 4am on 29th October 2013, two articulated lorries and a van collided between junctions 13 and 14 of the M5 near to Michaelwood services in South Gloucestershire. Sadly, one man had died in the collision. The southbound carriageway of the motorway was closed until approximately 11.30am when one of the lanes was re-opened.

04:11hrs – Call received into police control room

04:14hrs – Roads policing officer is sent to the scene following a report of a serious road traffic collision and a possible fatality

04.16hrs – Call received in the police control room from the Ambulance service who are at the scene confirming one fatality and two injured

04:19hrs – Senior investigating officer is dispatched by the police control room to the scene

04:28hrs – Details are sent to the Highways Agency who are responsible for closures and diversions

04:34hrs – First roads policing officer arrives at the scene

04:35hrs – South-bound carriageway is closed

04:56hrs – Senior investigating officer (SIO) arrives at the scene; a command structure is put in place including a scene manager responsible for evidence preservation

05:05hrs – On call specialist road collision investigator is called by the SIO

05:49hrs – Call out to recovery agency to attend and assess the best way of clearing the vehicles (removal of large vehicles and their load is a specialist job, involving specialist equipment and planning)

06:31hrs – Police helicopter is requested to take aerial photographs of the scene

06:41hrs – Specialist collision investigator arrives at the scene

06:53hrs – SIO requests Fire Service to remove the body of the deceased

07:33hrs – Recovery incident manager arrives at the scene after calling for a police escort to because of traffic build-up

07:45hrs – Fire Service attends to remove the body of the deceased; it's an extremely challenging and delicate job which takes some time

07:59hrs – Highways Agency update matrix signs following monitoring of traffic build up on CCTV – travellers as far away as the Midlands are advised of the closure

08:26hrs – Police community support officers are dispatched to help manage traffic build-up on the A38

09:00hrs – SIO liaises with Gloucestershire Police regarding diversions; the scene is on the border of the two forces

09:12hrs – Police liaise with recovery vehicles which are delayed in heavy traffic coming out of Weston-super-Mare. Police escorts are provided to get them to the scene quickly.

09:20hrs – The body of the deceased is finally removed from the vehicle after a long and intricate operation

10:10hrs – Recovery vehicles arrive at the scene and the lorries and van are dragged to the hard-shoulder. Hydraulic oil, radiator coolant and other debris must also be removed from the carriageway before it can be re-opened.

11.00hrs – Senior investigating officer hands the scene over to the Highways Agency

11.30hrs - One lane of the motorway is re-opened.