Dover lorry queues can be seen from space, like most UK traffic can

25 January 2022
What was claimed

There were continuous lorry queues at Dover on 22 January 2022, that were longer than the Channel itself, and could be seen from space.

Our verdict

We don’t know how long exactly the queues were on that date. They likely could be seen from satellite images, as most road queues can be. We haven’t seen evidence the queues were longer than the English Channel.

What was claimed

The BBC did not report on these queues.

Our verdict

The BBC News website did publish a local report on the queues that day. We don’t know if the stories appeared on BBC televised news.

Several posts on Facebook make the following claim: “So, there are continuous 🚛 queues at Dover that can be seen from space. 🌚 Longer than the channel itself. They can't, however, be seen on the BBC. 📺”

Both were posted on 22 January 2022.

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Could the lorries be seen from space?

Satellite imagery is so sophisticated now, that you can see details like individual cars on roads, so it makes sense that you can also see queues of vehicles too, however long the queue. The images on Google Maps are taken by cameras on satellites and aircraft and whether you count those as being in ‘space’ is more of an opinion. 

Importantly, Google itself stipulates: “Images aren't in real time, so you won't see live changes”.

The Mirror reported on 21 January: “Huge Dover lorry queue so long you can see it on Google Maps amid Brexit check delays”. 

It’s true that queues of lorries heading towards the port of Dover on the A20 can be seen on Google Maps via satellite. However, it’s not clear exactly when these satellite images were taken. 

Do we know exactly when the picture used in the Mirror article was taken? 

Not really. If you look on Google Maps, it just says “Imagery © 2022” and then lists a number of satellite and aerial photography providers such as the French National Centre for Space Studies and Airbus. If you look at the same area on Google Earth and zoom out slightly it says “Imagery date: 3/31/21–newer” and also lists several providers of satellite imagery such as the US Navy and the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

This probably means the whole image is a composite of several different pictures from different satellites.

Regardless of when it was taken, we used Google’s distance measuring tool to see how far the tailback in that particular image was. Between the first roundabout coming off the A20 and what appeared to be the end of the main tailback, it was about 2.1 miles

Are the queues longer than the Channel itself?

As above, we don’t know exactly how long the queues were on the 22 January 2022. 

Several newspapers quoted different figures on that day:

  • The Independent said: “One courier told The Independent he had been caught up in queues of up to 15km (9 miles) since full customs controls came into force at the beginning of January.” This doesn’t tell us how long the queues were on that day though.
  • The Independent also said: “There was a queue of 7km leading up to Dover port on Friday morning [21 January], according to the Sixfold traffic tracker used by the logistics industry which has recorded “higher than usual” build-up this week.”
  • The BBC didn’t give a figure but called them “lengthy lorry queues”.

The English Channel varies in width, but Dover Straight, the narrowest part, is just 21 miles (almost 34 km) wide. We have seen no evidence that the Dover queues around 22 January 2022 were as long as that.

Did the BBC report on these queues?

We were able to find at least one local news story covering the lorry queues at Dover on the BBC’s website on 22 January. The official BBC South East Twitter account posted the story on the same day and it has since been posted again on 24 January by the BBC Politics account alongside a clip of a panel discussion about Brexit.

However, the inclusion of the television emoji may mean the person posting on Facebook meant the story was not broadcast on BBC television news. We can’t check this as BBC iPlayer doesn’t allow you to watch back news programmes several days after they broadcast for various reasons, but it seems unlikely that the story would have had national televised news coverage if there was only a local story on the website that day about it.

Image courtesy of Wolfgang Hasselmann via Unsplash.

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