RAC calls for expert road crash teams

The RAC Foundation has called for an expert road accident investigation body to work alongside rail, air and marine inquiry teams.

The research organisation says there are too many deaths on Britain’s roads and lessons are not being learned from these. They are calling for road accident investigators to find out why an accident has occurred, rather than just determining who is to blame.

In a report from the RAC Foundation it was revealed that around 45 people die each year in Britain as a result of an air crash, train crash, or tragedy at sea. In each of these cases a specialist team of investigators are required to find the cause of the accidents. In is in stark comparison to the 2,900 people killed on Britain’s roads in 2008, yet there is no investigative body to determine the cause of these accidents.

The only investigations currently carried out into traffic collisions, are done by the police, but they only gather evidence to bring convictions, not to explain the cause of events. In the report, the work of the police force is not criticised but it is not enough to reduce the number of fatalities on our roads.

The author of the report Dr Chris Elliot says that someone should be taking a wider look at the causes of accidents, both direct and contributory. A road accident investigation body would not seek to blame but could lead to improvements in policy, road or vehicle design and even traffic management.

Dr Elliot said: “In 1972 the groundbreaking Robens report revolutionised workplace safety and led to the creation of a coherent and rational legal structure that has saved hundreds of lives. It is time to have a similar root and branch review of the way transport safety policy is implemented and co-ordinated. We have to challenge the global trend towards criminalising accidents and their investigation.”

The report highlights an accident in October 2008 on the M6 in which six family members were killed when a truck ran into their stationary car. The cause of the accident determined by police was a lapse of concentration by the truck driver who was jailed for three years after being charged with causing death by dangerous driving. Dr Elliot has questioned in his report whether this was the root cause of the accident.

He said: “Motorways are very safe when traffic is flowing smoothly, but when the traffic flow is disrupted, a single lapse could lead to a tragedy. It is arguable that the root cause of the accident was an earlier accident on the same section of motorway that caused a traffic jam in which the car was stopped. It is not clear whether this could have been cleared more quickly, if for example, there had been no pressure to investigate possible criminal offences.”

The report condemns the fact that there is a huge difference in the levels of investigation between different types of transport. The 2007 Grayrigg rail crash in Cumbria in which one person died resulted in an 18-month enquiry, a 250 page report, and 29 safety recommendations. In comparison when a bus crashed in August 2008 in Staffordshire, also resulting in the death of one person, there was no investigation into the cause, despite locals criticising what they called inadequate roads and sharp corners.

The report concludes that the police could carry out this type of evidence-gathering and analysis, but the number of traffic police officers has fallen in recent years. The sheer regularity of road deaths means there would be far more work to do than for air, sea or rail accident investigations.

The government does not support the RAC Foundation’s idea. In a statement in response to the report it was suggested that government believes that wider research in road safety is the best way to learn lessons and reduce the number of fatalities on Britain’s roads.

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