Weather ‘contributed’ to deaths on the A697

The A697 south of the Bridge Of Aln.
The A697 south of the Bridge Of Aln.

The number of fatal accidents on the A697 in 2012 is higher than the previous six years combined, crash statistics have revealed.

But information compiled for Northumberland County Council shows that weather conditions appear to be a contributing factor in some of the smashes this year, instead of excess speed.

It follows the most recent Department for Transport figures which indicate that the A697 has double the average number of accidents for rural A-class roads.

And now, action is going to be taken to try to improve the road’s safety record, including an investigation into the surfaces of the carriageway.

The move comes on the back of key talks on Friday between Coun Glen Sanderson, County Hall officers and Northumbria Safer Roads Initiative’s chief executive.

“One fatality is one too many and I know that the county council, despite having tight resources, is taking this seriously,” said Coun Sanderson. “It was a very productive meeting. I’m relieved and pleased that progress is being made.

“It appears that in some cases, it looks like the weather has been a contributing factor, instead of excess speed.”

Crash statistics from 2006 to 2012, which were shown to Coun Sanderson, reveal that there have been nearly 200 accidents (fatal/serious/slight) along the road over this period.

There have been five fatal accidents this year alone, compared to two in 2007, and one in 2006 and 2008. There were no fatal crashes from 2009 to 2011.

However, the highest number of accidents in a calendar year from 2006 was the 34 in 2009, of which 12 were serious.

Recent speed monitoring along the A697, which took place in three locations – at Espley, near to Fenrother and on the approach to Weldon Bridge – revealed that speed wasn’t an issue in these sections.

The data also revealed that the number of vehicles using the A697 hasn’t changed dramatically over recent years.

Coun Sanderson said that about 3,500 vehicles use the most southern stretch of the A697 on a daily basis, and this reduces to around 2,500 in the Powburn area. This figure decreases further north.

As a result of Friday’s talks, the county council has agreed to carry out a road action plan, looking at the condition of the road, which should be completed in the early part of next year.

There have also been talks about increasing the deployment of mobile speed cameras along the A697 over the Christmas period, followed by a more frequent presence in the future.

Coun Sanderson said he felt confident that this would happen.

He said the chief executive of the Northumbria Safer Roads Initiative was ‘very open’ to the idea of increased deployment of mobile speed cameras and a formal request will be made.

He added that the Wooler /Milfield areas could also see more mobile speed camera presence, after concerns raised by Coun Anthony Murray.