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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 15:48 GMT
My M40 nightmare to work
The crash scene on the M40
The crash caused five hour delays for motorists
Commuter Dave Gilbert, of BBC News Online, describes being caught up for five hours in the worst accident on the M40 for a decade.

Sitting for five hours in stationary traffic is plenty of time to reflect on how lucky I have been.

It was certainly hot, dull and frustrating trapped in my car but if I had left home on time I would have been 15 miles further down the road and most likely caught up in the worst accident on the M40 in the last 10 years.

I make the 50-mile trip from Oxford to London each day and I am acutely aware how dangerous it is simply getting to work.

The fog was as thick as any this winter and I knew that traffic would be heavy on the motorway where it cuts through the Chiltern hills at junction six.

High speeds

But amazingly cars were streaming past at 70, 80, 90mph and above in a mad dash down the slipway to join the motorway.

As I was about to join the M40 I saw a lorry's tail lights come on followed by a two rows of blinking hazard lights and I realised there was a problem.

There I stayed for the next four hours as the sun burnt off the fog.

But I knew things were serious because emergency services and helicopters where travelling back and forwards for the next two or three hours.

It is at times like these that you see the best and worst in people.

Some of the cars, which I had seen flying past me, tried to reverse back up the slip road and some even turned around in the road and drove down the hard shoulder, when they realised there would be a long delay.

Motorist on the M40 hard shoulder
Some motorists got out of their cars
Others left their cars and tried to walk to a nearby service station.

More sensible motorists were relaying information between cars and handing out sweets and I even saw one man get his golf clubs out and practise his putting.

If it had not been for the radio bulletins, which told us how serious the accident was, I could almost describe the atmosphere as a bizarre carnival as the sun burnt off the remnants of the fog and it turned into a glorious day.

I was grateful for BBC Radio Oxford, which gave us a constant stream of M40 news with 15-minute updates on the situation on their programme.

The radio bulletins offered a glimmer of hope when they said one lane would be opened but they issued a police appeal for people to get back in to their cars.

I could see the people who had abandoned their vehicles streaming back up the hard shoulder with bags of shopping from the service station, getting back into their cars.

Relaxed atmosphere

Most of the time I spend commuting other road users frequently present themselves as adversaries with aggressive driving.

But with drivers forced to talk to each other and drive at a snail's pace the whole atmosphere on the road was a lot more relaxed.

If only people could drive as sensibly all the time perhaps we would not acquire the lethal road rage, which has descended on Britain's roads.

My relief on the traffic beginning to move was tempered when I realised that the jam to leave the jam was truly awful.

At first the ordeal was very frustrating but that turned to relief and became a sobering experience - I am around to enjoy the glorious spring day where as some people have not been so lucky.

The BBC's Tom Symonds
"20,000 cars are caught up in the jam"
See also:

28 Mar 02 | England
Crash chaos marks Easter rush
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