185,000 broken down vehicles and 122 children – just two reasons why motorways and A roads were closed in England last year

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The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has discovered that more than 40% of all motorway and major A road lane closures in England in 2014 were caused by vehicle breakdowns – and 122 unsupervised children caused them to be shut too.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has discovered that more than 40% of all motorway and major A road lane closures in England in 2014 were caused by vehicle breakdowns – and 122 unsupervised children caused them to be shut too.

The information came from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the IAM, the biggest independent road safety charity in the UK, which asked for the number of incidences of lane closures on roads managed by Highways England’s in 2014.

In total there were 443,590 lane closures on motorways and primary A roads in England last year for 44 defined reasons by Highways England.

Some of the major findings of the report were as follows:

  • 12,759 pedestrians walking on a motorway live lane or active A road caused lane closures (three per cent of all incidences) in addition to the 122 unsupervised children.
  • There were also 7,446 cases of a ‘non-legal’ use of the hard shoulder – some two per cent of recorded incidences.
  • Other causes listed were 3,990 animals loose on the network; 2,598 abandoned vehicles and 6,742 shed tyres
  • 6,288 injury collisions and 29,656 non-injury collisions also caused lane closures
  • 856 suicides or attempted suicides caused roads to be shut on England’s main routes.
  • There were also 152 cases of objects being thrown onto the roads, and 567 cases of a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road causing roads to be closed.

The other top five reasons for road closures, apart from breakdowns were planned roadworks, assorted obstructions, non-injury accidents and administration (mainly police and VOSA checks).

The numbers of incidents are as follows:

1. Breakdown: 185,457 (41%)
2. Planned road works (definition 1 below): 61,587 (14%)
3. Obstruction – other: 36,042 (8%)
4. Road traffic collision – no injury: 29,656 (7%)
5. Administration (definition 2 below): 23,705 (5%)

Of the 185,457 breakdowns; 40,192 were in a ‘live lane’ i.e. a lane with other moving traffic around it.

Almost half a million incidents took place in 2014 that led to a lane closure costing the economy an estimated £1 billion a year (based on existing government data – reference 1) in terms of lost man hours on motorways alone.

Sarah Sillars, IAM chief executive officer, said: “There are many worrying things that emerge from this information. Firstly, people are putting their own lives at risk and those of others by not maintaining their vehicles properly to the point they break down on our busiest roads.

“While we appreciate that a few breakdowns are unavoidable, such as a tyre blow out, the vast majority can be avoided or dealt with before taking a vehicle onto a key route.

“It also shows people do not treat our key economic arteries with the respect they deserve. Pedestrians, unsupervised children and objects thrown on the road should never be happening. It is clear an education and awareness campaign starting at school age is badly needed.”

She added: “Investment in our roads would also play a big part in reducing some of those sorry statistics - having more than 5,700 pothole incidences causing road closures is not something England can be proud of.”

The IAM also advocates continual training and development to improve the skills of drivers on our roads, which would go some way to tackling the nearly 30,000 non-injury collisions on our roads identified in this survey (reference 2).


1. Planned road works: notice of impending road works to be under taken on the network communicated by the contractor for traffic management purposes. i.e. which lane they will be closing in order to carry out road works.

2. Administration: information received following an observation from any source. i.e. traffic officer observes a vehicle which needs criminal investigation and details given to the police or pass information of a vehicle being driven erratically on the network.

Definitions supplied by Highways England.


1: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tackling-1billion-cost-of-motorway-closures

2: http://iam.org.uk/images/policy/manifesto/iam-manifesto.pdf

The IAM is the UK’s largest independent road safety charity, dedicated to improving standards and safety in driving and motorcycling. The commercial division of the IAM operates through its occupational driver training company IAM Drive & Survive. The IAM has more than 200 local volunteer groups and over 90,000 members in the UK and Ireland. It is best known for the advanced driving test and the advanced driving and motorcycling courses. Its policy and research division offers advice and expertise on road safety.

Media contacts:

IAM Press Office – 020 8996 9777
ISDN broadcast lines available


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Rodney Kumar
Institute of Advanced Motorists
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