Despair at lack of Dockspur safety work

MAJOR safety work at Felixstowe's deathtrap dock spur roundabout looks unlikely to ever take place – partly because of the cost.But while another fatal accident could happen at any time, experts claimed today that major changes to the notorious A14 junction will make little difference to the number of crashes – because the roundabout is not the cause of them.

MAJOR safety work at Felixstowe's deathtrap dock spur roundabout looks unlikely to ever take place – partly because of the cost.

But while another fatal accident could happen at any time, experts claimed today that major changes to the notorious A14 junction will make little difference to the number of crashes – because the roundabout is not the cause of them.

Sue O'Sullivan, whose husband Martin was killed at the junction a year ago, was today deeply saddened that so little action has been taken.

"I felt something substantial should be done there, or at the very least traffic lights should be put in to make the traffic slow down and stop," said Mrs O'Sullivan, of Parham, near Woodbridge.

"That would have been relatively inexpensive and quick to do. I am very sad about all this."

Mrs O'Sullivan walked virtually unscathed from the BMW after a lorry overturned and crushed the car, killing her husband – and has never been back to the scene.

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The lorry driver, Walter Purslow, 43, of Cructon, near Shrewsbury in Shropshire pleaded guilty at South East Suffolk Magistrates Court to using a vehicle in a dangerous condition. Purslow also pleaded guilty to making a false entry on a tachograph in Birmingham or elsewhere on the day of the crash.

Also appearing before magistrates were John Price, 36, of Hawthorn Road, Minsterly, Shrewsbury, and David Bendall, of Sun Break, Manscroft, Shrewsbury. Price admitted use of a vehicle in a dangerous condition on the Dock Spur roundabout with the suspension set too high for a trailer. Bendall denied using a vehicle in a dangerous condition between April 19 and 22 but admitted failing to take 11 hours' daily rest in a 24 hour period on April 21 and making a false entry on a tachograph on April 21.

All three are due to be sentenced on May 28.

Highways chiefs say they are determined to prevent another person being killed at the junction – but say the road may not be the main problem.

They say the chance of a juggernaut flipping over is around a million to one, the possibility of another fatal crash is even slimmer.

Research just completed into the accidents at the A14 junction suggests that there are two factors which cause the crashes: speed and poor loading of lorries.

There is also a suggestion that some artics involved in the roll-overs at the site may have had defects.

Knowing why the lorries flip over as they turn right to Felixstowe port doesn't make it any easier or quicker to solve the problem. It's a complex issue.

"We can work to try to solve the problems with the road but others need to help with the other issues, such as poor loading of the vehicles or their containers," said Jamie Hassall, project manager for the Highways Agency.

"We want to work in partnership with them. We will be meeting with the Road Haulage Association and the ports to see what they can do to help.

"The agency also would like to see police take stronger action and to prosecute in some of these cases.

"If there are defects with the lorry or it has an unstable load, a few prosecutions might bring the message home and people might take ownership of the problem. Some lorry drivers may see that as unfair – but at least they will make their employers take action or talk to those loading the boxes."

Campaigners have been clamouring for a major scheme at the roundabout to halt the accidents, which happen on average twice a year.

The accident in which Mr O'Sullivan died was one local people had long feared.

There have been 16 similar lorry crashes in the past six years with articulated vehicles rolling over and losing their loads as they to the port – three of them since Mr O'Sullivan died.

But the Highways Agency does not believe that spending huge sums of money at the junction can be justified or may even be necessary.

Some 6,000 lorries a day use the roundabout – more than two million a year – and 24,000 cars. With an average of just over two crashes a year, this makes it a million to one chance that the lorry in front of you will roll over.

Elsewhere in the country there are junctions and roads with a far worse accident record and more frequent fatalities, all demanding money be spent.

So the Highways Agency is trying a "bit by bit" approach to see if it solves the dock spur's problems and this autumn will spend around £30,000 on safety work to improve road markings.

Two improvements will be made:

n Advisory speed markings will be painted on the carriageway – 20mph on the Felixstowe approach to the roundabout and 30mph on the port exit road.

n New hatching at Candlet Road exit to separate traffic going to the docks and town centre and improve the driving line for vehicles turning right.

Work will also be carried out in consultation with Suffolk County Council to the Candlet Road exit to try to stop minor accidents in which cars have shunted into each other because drivers have unexpectedly stopped to give way.

The project has been recommended by the Transport Research Laboratory which carried out a thorough ten-month study of the junction and compiled a 20-page report on it.

Mr Hassall said: "The problem with major work is that it deals with the results of the accidents rather than the cause, which is not particularly helpful – and it could just move the accidents to another part of the roundabout, or lead to different sorts of accidents."

The research examined circumstances of the accident and police reports and identified defects in the lorries, poor loading and possibly speed as the causes – though several lorries have turned over at very low speeds.

The most recent accident where a piece of machinery slid off a lorry and on to the inside lane – which could have killed a family – happened because the lorry was poorly loaded and could have occurred at any roundabout.

"We have only one type of accident here and the accident record is very good. One or sometimes two in a million lorries overturn," said Mr Hassall.

"As a roads authority, what we can do here is to try to make the lorries go even slower and to make them aware of the problem. If they go slower they have more chance of getting round it.

"There is nothing wrong with the geometry of the roundabout and 99 per cent of vehicles make it round with no problem."

The agency has not ruled out further work, such as flashing speed signs, but a major scheme is highly unlikely because the benefits do not justify the huge costs involved, especially compared to needs elsewhere.

"We could do more now but then it would not be so easy to tell which parts are working or not – and too many signs can make a junction cluttered and distract drivers," he said.

"When these latest works have been done, we will leave it for a year or so to assess their effect to see if there have been more accidents and if those are particularly freaky or what factors were involved, and then see if further changes or action is necessary.

"In the meantime, we will talk to the police, RHA and port authorities to flag up the problems we have discovered with lorries using the roundabout."

But it now seems the four long term options, costed at between £120,000 and £385,000, involving changes to the roundabout entrance, separation of traffic going to the port and town, and making the roundabout smaller, will not be carried out.