Chorley's mayor says he is lucky to be alive after horror 'automatic handbrake' incident on motorway

The mayor of Chorley says he feared he was about to meet his maker when his car’s automatic handbrake apparently activated while he was travelling in the outside lane of a busy motorway.

Monday, 7th June 2021, 6:15 pm
Updated Monday, 7th June 2021, 6:18 pm

Steve Holgate was on the M62 near Leeds when the freak incident unfolded, bringing his vehicle to a near stop in the midst of fast-flowing traffic – and leaving him at the mercy of the quick reactions of other drivers.

In a terrifying twist on one of the usual selling points for any vehicle – how quickly it can accelerate – Cllr Holgate ended up discovering just how quickly his Citroen C4 Picasso could slow down.

“For no apparent reason whatsoever, all the brakes came on – it was just like you’d put the handbrake on. All four wheels locked up and I came to a grinding halt in about eight seconds.

Chorley's mayor Steve Holgate wasn't smiling when his car came to a "grinding halt" on the M62 (image: Neil Cross)

“[By that point], I‘d got into the middle lane and there was traffic swarming all around me – it was swerving either side. So picking my moment [to] get across in a gap was just lucky really.

“I put my feet to the floor on the clutch and the accelerator, then took my foot off the clutch – and it dragged itself steaming and smoking onto the hard shoulder.

“How I’m still alive, I don’t know. I was looking in my mirror and all I could see were cars shooting up behind me – it was really scary,” recalls Cllr Holgate, who sits on both Chorley Council and Lancashire County Council.

He also shudders to think of the “absolute disaster” that would have befallen him and other road users had he been driving on a section of so-called ‘smart motorway’ – which is where the hard shoulder has been converted into a live running lane, with refuge points at up to one-and-a-half-mile intervals. Fourteen people were reported to have died on stretches of smart motorway in 2019.

Cllr Holgate has had a bill for more than £1,000 for repairs to his car - but knows he is "awesomely lucky" to have escaped with his life (image: Neil Cross)

“They’re so dangerous. If what happened to me had happened under smart motorway regulations, there would have been a pile up,” Cllr Holgate says.

A review of smart motorways last year recommended that refuge bays on any yet-to-be created routes should ideally be spaced three quarters of a mile apart where feasible – and at a maximum spacing of one mile.

After the Lancashire Post got in touch with Citroen about the incident – which happened in March – the car maker offered to examine the nine-year-old vehicle, which Cllr Holgate had already taken to an independent garage for attention. He says that the outlet replaced a part connected to an automatic handbrake feature which should activate only when the car has been stopped and the ignition turned off.

Chorley’s mayor has since shelled out more than £1,000 on repairs to problems he says were caused during his attempt to get out of harm’s way – including a new clutch and brake discs.

While he says the price tag has caused him to “sulk” a little bit, he appreciates that he was “awesomely lucky” to have escaped unharmed.

And although he admits to fearing for his life in the moment his car seemingly took on a mind of its own, the experience has not left him reluctant to take the road.

“There’s a bit of my brain missing – I’m frightened of nothing, which is not always a good thing,” he laughs.

WHAT CITROEN SAY

In a statement, a Citroen spokesperson said: “Citroën UK has recently checked the work done on Mr. Holgate’s car by a local garage following the incident. The check was carried out free of charge as a gesture of goodwill to ensure the work had been carried out correctly to manufacturer standards.

“We hope Mr. Holgate enjoys many more years of motoring in his C4 Picasso.”