It looks like the road to Basra - but this is the motorway to Birmingham

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The Independent Online
It is not the road to Basra, but the motorway to Birmingham. The stark image is reminiscent of the seared remains of Iraqi army vehicles caught by allied aerial bombardment six years ago. This scene of desolation is the result of man's struggle with the elements.

Three people were killed and 62 injured as drivers sped through a dense fog that fell on stretches of the M42 in Hereford and Worcester yesterday morning. Sixty vehicles collided on the southbound lanes at 6.40am between Junction 1 and 2 near Alvechurch, just north of Redditch. Minutes later, 30 others crashed close by on the northbound carriageway. Police said motorists driving too fast, too close to each other and ignoring warning signs were to blame.

Doug Mackay, deputy chief fire officer for Hereford and Worcester, said: "When I was driving to the scene at 8am with my blue lights flashing and at a reasonable speed, I still had cars overtake me travelling in excess of 70mph. That is in conditions of 50 metres' visibility. It is just disgusting behaviour."

Many survivors escaped with only moments to spare. Ann Gaskell, from London, managed to stop just short of the pile of crashed cars on the motorway. "But then a car in the fast lane smashed into me and a van came crashing over the roof of my Rover. I thought I have got to get out, and all I can remember is just screaming. I feared for my life and the car behind mine went up in flames,'' she said.

Two of the dead were Lisa Susan Dodson, 21, a student from Kidderminster, Hereford and Worcester, and Malcolm Macdonald, a postal worker in his fifties, who was in a Royal Mail van.

After fire crews and accident investigators completed exhaustive searches through the wreckage of burnt-out vehicles, police said all casualties had been accounted for. The Highways Agency, which is responsible for Britain's motorways, is looking into methods of predicting fog build-up and has pinpointed danger spots. The M42 tops the list.

Hospital staff said many of the injured were young men. Experts suggested that these were the most likely drivers to be involved in a pile-up.

"They are known as high- violators," said Dr Steve Strad-ling, senior lecturer in the Driver Behaviour Research Unit at Manchester University.

The M42 pile-ups were the worst of a number of accidents around the country. The A1(M) in South Yorkshire was closed in both directions as rescue services battled to reach the scene and clear the carriageway after 30 vehicles collided in five separate incidents. Other pile-ups on the A1 near Stevenage in Hertfordshire and the M40 in Buckinghamshire also brought traffic to a standstill.

More thick fog was expected to blanket inland areas of central and southern England overnight.