Know it & Solve it

car crash investigationWe know that when drivers don't follow the Brake Pledge deaths and injuries can happen: most casualties involve driver mistakes or intentional law-breaking. However, understanding in depth, and collating, the details of individual tragedies and the circumstances that led to them, is vital work. It would enable identification of the most effective and urgent solutions to prevent future deaths and injuries, for example through improved 'safe systems' including design of roads and vehicles that prevent and mitigate collisions. 

Yet while there are agencies that do this kind of investigation following rail, maritime and aviation disasters, there is no independent agency in the UK equipped or tasked with investigating road deaths and injuries, despite the much higher numbers of casualties on roads. This campaign calls for government to establish an independent Road Collision Investigation Branch to do this urgent work. To get to zero deaths and serious injuries, we need to know it, and solve it. We also need demanding casualty reduction targets. 

Why now?

Here are six major reasons for establishing a Road Collision Investigation Branch right now. 

1 Britain has committed itself to addressing the causes of deaths and injuries in its Road Safety Statement

In December 2015 the government published its British Road Safety Statement [1], committing to a "safe systems" approach to reducing road deaths and injuries. This means making improvements to our road infrastructure, our vehicles, and vehicle speeds to mitigate the chance of death and injury. But without detailed investigation of collisions, it is impossible to know which, out of many possible, countermeasures are likely to save most lives, nor monitor the effectiveness of implemented countermeasures. 

2 Britain has set itself "vision zero" targets for its strategic road network

Highways England has committed to eradicate deaths and serious injuries from its strategic road network (our network of trunk roads and motorways) by 2040 [2]. This "vision zero" approach is increasingly popular worldwide, as governments and road and city authorities recognise that no death or serious injury on roads is acceptable. We need to know what to do, and do it now. If road deaths don't begin to decline, by 2040 more than 41,000 more people will have died on Britain's roads, with many more injured. 

3 Britain's decline in deaths and serious injuries has stalled: we need to maintain our position as a world leader in road safety

Britain has a global reputation for reducing road casualties, but since 2010 the number of people killed and seriously injured has not continued to decline. We need to understand why, and address those causes. This strategic approach is the intelligent approach for a country trying to lead the way in tackling a global epidemic. 

4 Britain has the expertise to lead the way in road collision investigation 

Highly detailed collision investigations have been undertaken intermittently in recent years by British academics as part of commendable research programmes, resulting in detailed and insightful data sets. At present, this includes the Road Accident Indepth Study (RAIDS) [3] being undertaken by the UK's transport research agency TRL on behalf of the Department for Transport. However, such studies are often limited in scope (don't study all deaths and injuries) and limited in duration (funding for such research comes and goes). We need to harness expertise and knowledge within a permanent agency; it's a case of "use it or lose it". 

5 We are moving towards an automated and connected world of road transport

As vehicles and roads become increasingly automated and connected, it's more important than ever to investigate crashes and their changing causation. 

6 We do it for rail, aviation, and sea disasters: why not road?

Road crashes cause vastly more deaths in the UK than other transport disasters. For the past nine years, for example, there have been no passenger deaths on our railways [4]. Yet other modes of transport have independent agencies to investigate deaths and injuries and make recommendations to government regarding actions that should be taken to prevent future deaths and injuries. This includes the Rail Accident Investigation Branch [5], the Air Accidents Investigation Branch [6] and the Maritime Accident Investigation Branch [7].  

The RAIB and MAIB are statutory branches, established within acts of parliament within the past 25 years (Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003, Merchant Shipping Act 1995). The AAIB has been operating for more than 100 years having been established in 1912.  

How are road crashes investigated at the moment?

Information about the perceived causes of road crashes is recorded by police at the time of collisions, for criminal prosecution purposes and to inform statistics collated and published by the Department for Transport. This information mainly provides basic data including, for example, modal choice of victims, age of victims, time of day, etc. There is additional data available from hospitals relating to presentation of injuries. Collectively, however, this information is not adequate to investigate and determine the most effective countermeasures to tackle road casualties. 

What we need 

This campaign calls for an independent agency (a Road Collision Investigation Branch) to be established by government with urgency, to provide the evidence today to stop tomorrow's road casualties. Such an agency would be cost effective; anticipated savings in reduced deaths and serious injuries would outweigh the relatively nominal costs of running such an agency. Such an agency could: 

1 identify detailed causation of deaths and injuries on Britain’s road network
2 identify and make recommendations regarding effective and cost effective countermeasures to stop deaths and injuries
3 support Britain’s police in pursuance of excellence in their forensic investigation of crashes
4 develop standards and expertise in collision investigation, data recording and analysis that can assist and unify investigations in the UK and, for comparison purposes, abroad

Campaign news 

28.08.17: 'So their deaths aren't in vain' - a blog post by Mary Williams

28.08.17: Brake comments as road fatalities reach four year high

22.03.17: London conference calls for collision investigation to be prioritised 

End notes

[1] Department for Transport, Working together to build a safer road system, British Road Safety Statement, December 2015

[2] Department for Transport, Working together to build a safer road system, British Road Safety Statement, December 2015


[4] ORR, Rail Safety Statistics, Annual statistical release 2015-16

[5] Rail Accident Investigation Branch  

[6] Air Accidents Investigation Branch

[7] Maritime Accident Investigation Branch