The biggest pile-up in Czech history happened on Thursday after one of the country’s busiest motorways, the D1, was blocked by more than a hundred vehicles. They crashed due to heavy snowfall. The massive pile-up trapped around 20,000 people in their cars and rescue workers consider it a miracle that nobody was killed. Still, it took more than 12 hours to clear the motorway so that people could get home.
Several helicopters, more than 30 ambulances and other rescue units together with the police were sent in on Thursday to a hilly section of the D1 motorway about half way between Prague and the country’s second-largest city Brno. When a heavy snow storm hit the motorway at about 10 AM, many drivers failed to adapt to dramatically-changing conditions. As a result, a series of accidents developed rapidly into a 40-kilometre-long traffic jam which left around 20,000 people stuck on the road. Six of them were seriously wounded and more than 20 suffered minor injuries. The spokeswoman for the Central Automotoclub of the Czech Republic, Zuzana Ambrožová, explains the causes behind the collapse:
“It was a failure of the human factor. The drivers made several mistakes at once. First of all, most of them were driving too fast given the bad weather conditions and they didn’t adjust to the slippery road, and of course the snow storm. Many drivers also admitted that they had already put on their summer tyres. This resulted in a dramatic extension of their vehicles’ braking distance. And of course, the motorway effect developed with drivers not keeping safe distances between each other.”
It took more than 12 hours before the motorway connecting the Czech capital and Brno was cleared in both directions again. The D1 is the oldest of Czech motorways, built in 1967 and drivers often complain about its poor condition, while experts agree the highway can no longer cope with an ever increasing volume of vehicles. But Zuzana Ambožová says Thursday’s calamity cannot be blamed on the aging D1.
“The D1 motorway really does have a bad reputation among drivers but I don’t think that adding a third lane would have any major positive impact on situations like the one from yesterday. First of all, drivers have to follow traffic rules, they have to be disciplined. They also have to be able to anticipate and to assess the situation in which they find themselves; I’m afraid that didn’t happen yesterday.”
Several years ago, Brno-based author Vojtěch Mornstein wrote an award-winning catastrophic novel called “Gorazdův limit”, or “Gorazda’s Limit”. It gives an account of a hypothetical event of similar scale – a massive traffic jam on the D1. But Mr Mornstein says Thursday’s pile-up in fact turned out much better than the fictional event in his book.
“In my novel, the catastrophic traffic jam on the D1 highway was caused mainly by social conditions when too many bad people appeared at the same time at the same place. Yesterday’s problems were cause mainly by extreme weather conditions – that’s why the people involved behaved in a different way, they actually cooperated. As far as I know, there were no acts of violence, robbery and so on. On the other hand, it must have not been easy for thousands of people who were stuck there to stay in very cold weather for half a day.”