Having heard of another serious accident and road closure on the A361 at the Staverton crossroads bend, I think the Highways Department has missed the fundamental problem of the bend.
Although the flood prevention works are most welcome, the accidents on the bend have rarely been associated with the blocked drain and standing water.
In May last year I witnessed a near miss on the bend when a car travelling south lost control on the bend and fish-tailed across the road before ending up against the kerb on the northbound side of the road. I was travelling as the third car in a line towards Daventry and saw the event clearly and managed to stop, along with the second car, before the incident. The first car narrowly avoided a head-on smash and was lucky to just have a small amount of damage to the rear corner of their car. All parties were understandably deeply shocked. The road was damp but not flooded and the driver of the southbound car could not comprehend what had happened.
From my vantage point I noticed that the car had already lost control before it came in to view, and since then I have come to the conclusion that the problem does not lie with the radius of the bend but a change in camber in the road.
As you approach the bend driving south, there is a drop in the camber of the road just at the point that you start to turn into the corner and this significantly affects the stability of the vehicle.
On a dry road with a well maintained vehicle this doesn’t cause any significant difficulties. However, if other factors come into play such as; a damp road surface, uneven tyre pressures, worn shock absorbers, worn tyres, excessive speed, the list goes on, then the effect becomes significant.
For instance, I have found the issue more pronounced since changing the rear tyres of my car. The tyres are brand new, the pressures are spot on, but the car still gives a small twitch as I enter the bend. It’s enough of a problem that I plan to move them to the front of the car to see if it improves the situation. I think the problem is also exacerbated by the fact that if someone is travelling faster into the bend than they feel comfortable with, the point at which they ‘lift off’ the throttle is also the point at which the change of camber takes place. This increases the instability of the car by pitching the effective mass of the car forward and reducing the weight on the rear tyres. The near miss that I witnessed involved a Vauxhall Vectra, a front wheel drive car not prone to over-steer, but it was the rear end of the car that had lost traction with the road and I suspect that it is the same scenario that takes place in the majority of the incidents on the bend.
I believe the surface is to be re-dressed in the coming weeks, which may improve the situation in the short term. However, the typical surface dressing of ‘tar & chippings’ that is normally used often wears unevenly at points of significant load, and I believe the change in camber will be one such point. This may actually cause more issues in the future if there is a change in the surface characteristics coinciding with the change in camber.
I hope the Highways Department will again look at the problem with the bend and also hope that all those involved in the recent incident make a full and speedy recovery.