On Monday there was an accident on NSW’s F3 freeway, which runs from Sydney to Newcastle and is thus a major commuter road. The accident involved two trucks and completely stopped northbound traffic from 11:40am. For various reasons the road was still blocked during the evening peak hour, when northbound is the primary traffic direction. New traffic was forced onto the Old Pacific Highway, which is one lane northbound travelling through many towns, rather than a freeway which is dual carriage with two or three lanes northbound for most of its length. People already on the freeway had a great deal of difficulty getting off it. This is now a major political scandal in NSW.
During this time, many motorists were trapped for a long period of time in their car, and apparently the radio was advising that people not attempt to cross onto the other side of the dual carriageway and return to Sydney, and police were enforcing the rules against U-turns. The SMH reports that some people had an seven hour trip home against a normal hour and a half.
I was struck by the extent to which it seems to be assumed at least by the press and the (obnoxious) commenters on their websites, and quite possibly even by the Roads and Traffic Authority, that spending seven hours in a car without warning is basically an unfortunate experience. That’s a long time without water or a toilet break even for a healthy, abled young adult, but for the (considerably sized) segment of the population which is more vulnerable, this could be a life-threatening situation. Here’s one report the SMH published:
Damien Mueller, from South Australia, said a day at Taronga Zoo with his family turned into a nightmare shortly after arriving on the F3 about 3pm.
“It was about 6.30pm when the kids started getting ill and they were vomiting and dehydrated,” he said.
“I rang the police but he told me there was nothing he could do and if you can fly up the emergency lane, then do it, but I still got stuck.”
Mr Mueller said a truck driver gave his children some water. He eventually arrived home at Rankin Park just before 11pm.
That’s four and a half hours during which his children were ill from lack of water, and the emergency response from police sounds entirely inadequate, placing the onus on the father to get his children out of there and rehydrated if he could do so. (The ambulance service stated that they didn’t receive any calls for help.)
There are several things that stand out to me about this story: dehydration, which is not safe for anyone for many hours, and which is not safe for very young, elderly or sick people at all, is being treated as essentially a matter of personal discomfort; and the general urgency of the emergency response seems to be based on the safety and comfort of the people who are best placed to deal with the problem, people who can if pushed go eight hours or so without fluid (on what was a mild autumn day), rather than the people most at risk.
Was anyone reading stuck on the F3 and if so, was there any attempt to contact or encourage contact from people who were ill or at risk? Because this is striking me as a very serious systemic neglect of the needs of vulnerable people. I’m not surprised as such to find plenty of hints that the treatment of the delayed and trapped drivers and passengers was based on the tolerance of abled, adult, people, but I’m pretty frightened by it.