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Road crash laser scanners to save millions of pounds

image captionPolice crash investigators say the scanners provide a more comprehensive picture of a crash scene

Police in England are to use new laser scanners at the scene of serious motorway crashes so they can clear the roads more quickly.

The technology saves time by making a 3D image of the site, rather than investigators having to painstakingly log everything at the scene.

It is hoped that getting traffic moving again will save the economy hundreds of thousands of pounds each year.

Roads minister Mike Penning said the £3m investment was money "well spent".

It is estimated that motorway closures following serious crashes cost the economy £1bn a year, as freight traffic and work commuters are caught in the huge tailbacks than ensue.

Whenever someone is killed or seriously injured in a crash, the site of the crash becomes a crime scene.

An inquest or court case requires police to provide very specific details of road conditions, speed limits and distance between vehicles, and a full inventory of what is found on the road, such as skid markings or debris.

Specialist police investigators can spend many hours surveying the scene, taking measurements and collecting evidence. That can lead to long road closures.

£50,000 an hour

Government figures suggest that last year there were more than 18,000 full or partial motorway closures lasting a total of more than 20,000 hours, at a cost of £50,000 per hour

Speeding up the time it takes to thoroughly investigate a crash scene would allow the police to reopen the road more quickly.

The 3D laser technology uses a special scanner mounted on a tripod to take a 360-degree image of the crash site recording 30m separate data points down to a resolution of less than a millimetre.

image captionThis scanned image can be used to take measurements and survey evidence over a wide area

Each sweep takes about four minutes and typically police will take four scans of each site.

This digital image of the site can then be viewed on a computer screen enabling investigators to take measurements of where vehicles are in relation to each other and other important evidence.

Previously, much of this work would have been carried out by hand.

"A collision investigator still needs to examine the scene to identify all the evidence he needs," explained Sgt Richard Auty, a senior collision investigator with the Metropolitan Police.

"But the reality is that when we survey the scene with a scanner it gives us is the opportunity to produce a more comprehensive plan."

The purchase of 20 scanners will be funded by £3m provided by the Department of Transport, a sum that will be matched by the police.

Mr Penning said the new system is "absolutely money well spent".

"We need growth. That means I need my motorways working better. I need them open, I need them swept so I am investing £3m to offset the £1bn we are losing."

It is understood that initially the system will only be available in England.