An investigation into the 150-car collision on the Sheppey Crossing last year has concluded there is sufficient evidence to prosecute 32 drivers.
However, following four months of in-depth work by specialist collision investigators and case review staff from Kent Police, a decision was reached to send drives on alertness courses.
The collision on the Sittingbourne bound section of the bridge – which is believed to have been the biggest on a Kent road with 150 vehicles involved, 100 of which were damaged – resulted in eight people with serious injuries while 200 others were treated at the scene by emergency services.
Thick fog descended on the bridge at about 7.15am on 5 September, which is believed to be a fundamental reason for the collision and resulted in the crossing being closed in both directions for more than nine hours.
Rather than go through the process of taking drivers to court, it was felt as a consequence of some drivers reporting to have being doing speeds of up to 60mph but also admitting they couldn’t see beyond the bonnet of their vehicle, education would prove more beneficial.
Kent Police, South East Coast Ambulance and Kent Fire and Rescue Service – supported by the Highways Agency, the British Red Cross and Kent County Council – worked tirelessly on the day to treat casualties and manage the scene.
While the fog was a major contributory factor in the collision, evidence gathered by investigators suggests a number of motorists were not driving appropriately to the conditions.
Letters have now been sent to the 32 motorists concerned, with the offer of the safety awareness course to help educate drivers, rather than put them before the courts. Drivers who choose not to take up the offer of attending the course will automatically be summonsed to court, which is standard practice.
Inspector Martin Stevens, head of the serious collision investigation unit at Kent Police, said: ‘This has been a thorough investigation of what was the biggest collision in the county and certainly the largest our team has had to deal with.
‘The emergency services and partner agencies worked together to support those involved in the collision. Attention then quickly turned to the recovery process and getting the crossing back up and running by the early evening, which was no mean feat.
“Clearly the thick fog that descended on the bridge that day made driving conditions incredibly challenging and was a contributory factor in the resulting collision which stretched from the approach right across the bridge.
“While a significant number of drivers did precisely the right thing by driving to the conditions, our investigation has provided overwhelming evidence that in some cases motorists were not driving with due care and attention and were travelling at speeds which prevented them being able to stop in the distances that they could see ahead.
“Rather than go through the process of taking these people to court, it was felt that offering an educational outcome would prove far more beneficial for the drivers involved.
“Driving at speed without clear visibility is without doubt extremely dangerous and the fact there was not a single fatality on the day is quite simply a miracle.”
The one-day course is self-funded and put on by Kent County Council. Drivers will take part in an interactive classroom session followed by a chance to drive under the supervision of a qualified instructor. The aim is to help ensure they are better equipped with the skills necessary when driving in difficult and challenging conditions and to help prevent being involved in a collision again in the future.