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Dublin: 15 °C Sunday 21 October, 2018
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The worst time and place for accidents on the M50? The Red Cow junction on a Wednesday evening

There have been just under 2,000 vehicle collisions on the M50 in the past four years.

90407931_90407931 Source: Mark Stedman

THE M50 MOTORWAY in Co Dublin has been the scene of nearly 2,000 vehicle collisions in the last four years.

Probably Ireland’s best-known motorway, the M50 currently carries in excess of 160,000 vehicles on a daily basis, a figure undreamt of at the road’s opening in 1990.

The idea of the ‘M50 carpark’ has entered into the public lexicon here – with eight hours of rush hour each day (7-10am in the morning, 3-8pm in the afternoon/evening), delays have become something of an expectation when using the route. And the sheer volume of traffic means that collisions (and other incidents) play a big part in those delays.

Since March 2013, some 1,950 such accidents have occurred across the motorway’s 46-kilometre length.

According to figures released to TheJournal.ie under Freedom of Information by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), collisions on the motorway, which connects Dublin north-to-south in a meandering c-shape, in that time occurred at a rate of 39 per month, or more than one per day.

The figures do not include other incidents on the motorway, such as flat tires or cars running out of petrol, which reportedly also number in the thousands.

As the amount of traffic handled by the motorway increases, so too have the number of collisions. The last four years have seen the number of accidents recorded tick ever upwards – 199 in (the final nine months of) 2013, 397 in 2014, 560 in 2015, and 611 last year. No figures were available for 2012. Thus far in 2017, 183 accidents have been recorded on the M50. Given the winter months tend to be the busiest, the trend would suggest the final tally will be greater again than 2016.

20170511_Crashes (1) Source: Statista

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TII explains that the increase in accidents reported is not solely attributable to an increase in traffic:

“In recent years, TII has significantly increased the level of resources through the Motorway Operations Centre (MOC) at Dublin Tunnel to monitor the motorway network in response to growing traffic levels and an associated growth in incident frequency,” a spokesperson told TheJournal.ie. “With these increased resources and promotion of methods of communication with the MOC, there would have been increased reporting, detection and recording of incidents separate to any increase in frequency.”

“The application of separate Motorway Maintenance & Renewals Contracts to M50 junctions commenced in September 2014,” they added.

These contracts, which stipulate a significantly higher level of incident response service than would have previously been in place via the local authorities, has also led to increased detection and reporting of incidents.

Clearance time

Meanwhile, the average amount of time taken to clear an accident on the route is 47 minutes. The longest time taken to clear one individual incident was 92 hours (nearly four days).

Statistically, the most dangerous times to drive on the M50 are (perhaps unsurprisingly) at rush hour between 5pm and 7pm and between 8am and 10am in the morning, with the hour after 7am the third most dangerous time. Respectively, there have been 555, 346 and 153 accidents of varying severity at those times in the past four years.

However, the individual time period of a specific day which claims the most accidents is Wednesday at 6pm, with 76 such collisions (Thursday at 6pm and Tuesday at 5pm are the next most likely to feature a crash). With 365 accidents in four years, Thursday is the most dangerous day of the week, with accumulated fatigue from a working week perhaps playing a part.

TII Source: TII

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The winter months are the source of over 32% of all crashes on the M50, with low visibility and poor weather taking their toll. November (the first month after the clocks go back), December and January (231, 204, and 202 collisions respectively) are the three worst months for incidents. By contrast May and June have just 114 and 107 apiece.

There are 16 junctions on the M50, with over 50% of accidents occurring at just five of them. Collisions were evenly split between the northbound (988 , 51%) and southbound (933, 48%) carriageways. Just 27 collisions saw the motorway affected in both directions in the last four years.

The Red Cow

The Inchicore/Red Cow roundabout exit (junction 9, which links with the south of the country) has seen the greatest number of accidents since 2013 with 267 (13% of the total).

It is followed by Junction 7 (Palmerstown/Galway with 255), Junction 6 (Blanchardstown/M3 with 224), Junction 3 (Dublin Airport/M1 with 197), and Junction 5 (Finglas/Ashbourne with 168).

90299813_90299813 Traffic flowing off the Red Cow junction onto the M50 in May 2013 Source: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Collisions on the M50 are split into four categories: low priority, moderate priority, high priority, and major incident. Those priorities are based upon the level of incident management required from motorway services and the emergency services.

The vast majority of crashes (900) since 2013 have been moderate priority (a ‘common-or-garden fender-bender’ according to a TII source). The incident in July 2013 which wasn’t officially cleared for 92 hours (mentioned above) for instance was a category two, moderate priority accident.

“This was most likely a fuel spillage,” says a source. “The longer ones might be a fuel spill or other liquids coming from vehicles. So you’ll see a lane closed possibly for an extended period. Cars can lose traction on spillages, it’s one of the biggest challenges of motorway management, dealing with viscosity on the road. Special cleaners will deal with the spillage, then they’ll test it and clean it again until they’re satisfied traction is what it should be.”

month Source: TII

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Category three incidents will typically involve a multi-car collision. Category four, or major incidents, however typically involve fatalities or serious injuries, or collisions of such a nature where a fatality is a possibility. “They mean the motorway probably being shut down,” says a source. There were 44 such accidents on the M50 in the past four years. Four exits tie for the most amount of major incidents with five each – the Red Cow, Blanchardstown, Dublin Airport/M1, and Shankill/M11.

Much of the preparatory work for collisions on the motorway is relatively unseen. At any time, motorway service trucks are parked on off-ramps waiting for news of a collision or similar incident. Then their job is to get onto the roadway and get the stricken vehicle(s) off the road as quickly as possible.

In January 2016 TII announced a revamp of the motorway’s emergency planning.

As a result of that plan’s introduction emergency teams are positioned at strategic locations, split between the northern and southern stretches of the M50, in readiness for the development of a major incident.

The crux of that plan is to ensure the road runs as well during a major incident as it does during a minor one. To succeed with that aim will be no easy task however – the M50 simply isn’t built, in its current guise, for the volume of traffic it has to contend with on a daily basis.

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