(Updated 2314 hrs 15.11.13)
The three main trunk roads serving Argyll & Bute and the West Highlands - the A82, A83 and A85 - were closed to traffic 186 times between 2010 and 2012. The figures were revealed to Highlands & Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor in a written Parliamentary answer from the Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown.
Police deal with the aftermath of a road crash on the A83 trunk road at Tarbert Loch Fyne, Argyll (Photo: Colin Hunter Freelance)
After being contacted by constituents who expressed anger and concern at repeated and lengthy closures of these main trunk roads, Jamie tabled questions in Parliament, asking the Scottish Government (a) how many times and (b) for how long on average the (i) A82, (ii) A83 and (iii) A85 have been closed as a result of crime scene investigation of accident sites in the last three years, and for what reasons these roads cannot be reopened for managed traffic flow more quickly in such cases.
The Transport Minister responded:
"The A82, A83 and A85 have, respectively, been closed for 97, 43 and 46 times over the last three full calendar years. In this period, there were 11 fatal reported personal injury accidents on the A82, 5 fatal accidents on the A83 and 11 fatal accidents on the A85.
"These closures have also resulted for a variety of other reasons, including fallen trees, the recovery of broken-down vehicles and the consequences of road traffic accidents. The duration of the closures are dependent on the circumstances of each incident, and the closures associated with slight or non-injury accidents are often relatively short in timescale.
"The lengthiest closures are often associated with the clearance and investigation of more serious accidents. Where the recovery and treatment of casualties is taking place, this has an obvious priority. Where accident investigations are taking place, the conduct of these is a matter for Police Scotland.
"Transport Scotland and its Operating Companies work with Police Scotland on the diversionary routes for such closures and the clean-up of the site when the accident investigation is complete. Every effort is made to minimise the duration of closures. Each case is dependent, however, on the balance of operational and other priorities outlined above".
Speaking yesterday, Jamie said:
“Constituents understand that serious road accidents will, on occasion, cause the closure of trunk roads, due to the need for the police to conduct scene of crime investigations.
“However, many constituents have expressed concern to me that the occurrence and duration of these closures, especially on the A82, has increased significantly in recent years, and they are questioning why the roads cannot be reopened more quickly as they appear to have been in the past. As a result of these closures, some drivers have been forced to make lengthy and time-consuming detours, and I have also been told of constituents and tourists missing ferry connections in Oban as a result. Has any impact study been carried out of long delays on valuable Scottish tourism or, for that matter, local businesses?
“While not wishing to underestimate the tragedy to families of fatalities on our Highland roads, it seems that litigation is perhaps being used, to far too great an extent, as an excuse for closing roads and, in some cases, ruining holidays. We are not talking of diversions of a few miles but, in some cases, many miles, and this should be taken into consideration.
“Constituents will hope that these figures encourage the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to look again at how they deal with the aftermath of accidents on these key roads. They should also spur the Scottish Government to look again at redoubling its efforts to improve road safety on these routes”.
In yesterday's Press & Journal newspaper, Superintendent Iain Murray, Head of Road Policing at Police Scotland, was quoted as saying that the decision to close a road is never taken lightly and that action is taken only when an accident blocks the road or where there is a need to protect people who are injured. He added that, in the past five years, there were 615 injury collisions on the A82, 235 on the A83, and 311 on the A85.
Supt Murray continued:
"As can be seen from the total number of road closures, there have been many occasions on which these roads have not been closed, in spite of an injury collision having occurred.
"The impact on local communities and the wider economy is always at the forefront of investigators' minds. But there is a need to ensure that incidents are investigated thoroughly to ensure that families receive the support and information they deserve, and also to ensure that any safety issues are identified and addressed".
Supt Murray assured the Press & Journal that the police understand the challenges faced in rural communities, and reported an increase in staff in the divisional road policing unit at Dingwall, adding that dedicated trunk roads patrol groups would be based in Inverness and Fort William. Supt Murray said that officers would provide greater patrol cover and improved response and clear-up times, and that new collision investigation equipment would cut the time spent gathering data at accident scenes.
A Police Scotland spokeswoman has told this website that the Dumbarton-based divisional road policing unit for Argyll & West Dunbartonshire Division has various offices throughout Argyll and that, throughout the bulk of the year, support is provided also by the force's Motorcycle Unit.
A Transport Scotland spokeswoman, quoted in the Press & Journal, said:
"While the number of road casualties are at their lowest-ever level, there is still simply no room for complacency. One death on any road is one too many, and our focus continues to be on reducing numbers further through engineering, enforcement, and education".
In light of the Transport Minister's response to his original query, Jamie McGrigor has tabled a further written question, asking the Scottish Government whether it has conducted an economic impact assessment of the impact of trunk road closures on tourism and other business in the Highlands & Islands and, if not, whether it will do so.