Transport chiefs were advised to upgrade fog warning systems 18 months before a fatal pile-up on the M5 claimed seven lives, it emerged last night.
An investigation has discovered that the scene of last month’s fatal crash in Somerset was known by authorities to be a highly fog-prone stretch of motorway.
A report to the Highways Agency 18 months ago had recommended installing an automatic warning system triggered by fog. The report said it would be “cost-effective” and easy to build because much of the required infrastructure was already in place.
BBC’s Inside Out South West programme obtained the report, by experts Balfour Beatty-Mott McDonald, which was handed over in April 2010.
The report identifies a stretch just south of the crash site which it says is “very high risk” for fog – the highest category – and it says the site of the accident itself, just north of junction 25, is “high risk” for fog.
Automated systems are already used on the M25 and the technology has been installed on a number of motorways in the North West.
But the current system on the M5 is manually activated if fog is seen on the road – either via CCTV or from police calling in to the Highways Agency control centre.
Crash survivor Tom Hamill, from Wells, told the Inside Out West team: “There’s a big fog danger on the whole of the M5, the earliest indication you can give people that they need to slow down is going to be beneficial.
“Even 10mph, 15mph would have made some of those fatal crashes perhaps near fatal, and given some of those people half a chance.”
The Highways Agency confirmed it had received the report into warning systems on the M5 in April last year, but said it was not commissioned to look at a specific hazard and was part of a range of reports on potential technology information systems that could be introduced on Highways Agency roads in the South West – if appraisals showed they were good value for money and funding became available.
It added that technology funding in the current financial year was allocated to the installation of weather stations, which help inform decisions on road salt treatments against snow and ice and information provided to the public.
“We cannot comment on the possible causes of the collision on the M5 while police investigations are taking place,” a spokesman said.
“Fog warning messages can and are displayed on the M5 motorway, through existing signs and signals. Messages are set if fog is reported and confirmed to be present.
“At the time of the incident on Friday November 4, our regional control centre at Avonmouth had not received any warnings or reports of adverse weather conditions on any of our roads in the South West.
“We will consider any questions about potential safety improvements once the results of the investigation are known.”
Avon and Somerset Police have launched an investigation into what happened near the motorway at junction 25 before the accident on the northbound carriageway near Taunton on November 4.
Officers are investigating whether smoke from the firework display at Taunton Rugby Club may have been a factor in the crash as well as the foggy and wet conditions.
Lorry drivers Terry Brice, from Patchway, south Gloucestershire, and Kye Thomas, from Gunnislake, Cornwall, died in the crash, along with father and daughter Michael and Maggie Barton, from Windsor, Berkshire, grandparents Anthony and Pamela Adams, from Newport, south Wales, and battle re-enactor Malcolm Beacham, from Woolavington, near Bridgwater.
A total of 51 people were injured in the accident, described as one of the worst British motorway crashes in memory.