Victim support

Key facts

  • In 2014, 1.25 million people were killed and 20-30 million injured globally in a road crash, it is not known how many of these were as a result of criminal driving; [1]
  • An average of five people are killed on UK roads every day; and over 60 people are seriously injured in a road crash in the UK every day; [2]
  • Globally, the police investigate almost three times more road deaths than homicides [3];
  • Brake receives £109,000 annually from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to provide support to bereaved road crash victims in England and Wales. Whilst the MoJ grants funding to PCCs who may choose to use it to support road crash victims, no other funding earmarked specifically for road crash victims is provided by the MoJ.
  • In 2014 the Ministry of Justice announced that the National Homicide Service would receive £2.75 million annually until 2017 to provide services to victims of homicide and manslaughter, this does not include road crash victims;
  • £35.71 million of the £83.41 million awarded by the Ministry of Justice core department in grants (2014-15) went to Victim Support , specifically to fund the National Homicide Service, Court Based Victim Service and the Core Victim Service in England and Wales [5];
  • The Ministry of Justice assigned £24 million to Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales between 2014-15 to fund victim support services[6];


Every day, five families in the UK must face the unbearable news that their loved ones will never come home because they have been killed in a road crash, while a further 60 families will be left to come to terms with the often life-altering impact of a serious injury received in a road crash.

Sudden, violent and often resulting from criminal behaviour, the impact of road crashes on the bereaved and injured, both immediately and longer-term, can be devastating. Reactions in grief and loss are impossible to predict but it is vital that the government takes a careful and nuanced approach to road crash victims: keeping them aware, informed and supported through a time of great personal trauma.

When considering the support given to the victims of road crashes, we must consider:

  • The mind-set of the victim;
  • Who is responsible for keeping them informed and updated?
  • What structures are in place to give a voice to road crash victims?
  • What improvements can be made to the current system?

Brake aims to answer these questions in the text below.

Learn more about Brake’s support services for road crash victims.

Victim psychology

Globally, an average of 1.25 million people are killed and between 20-30 million injured on the roads, yet in spite of this frequency it is impossible to predict how victims will react in the aftermath of a road crash. While common reactions include anger, shock, numbness, guilt and fear; the unexpected and often violent nature of road crashes affect people differently based upon their circumstances and experiences. [7]

The trauma resulting from loss and injury in a road crash can have a dramatic effect upon the emotional, physical, social and financial well-being of the victims. They can feel isolated and stigmatised, family dynamics can be disrupted and mental health can be impaired, causing greater problems in the long-run. In some cases, more complex problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop as a result of these influences. [8]

In the aftermath of the road crash, how the victims are treated is central to their mental well-being. Evidence reveals that victims frequently perceive themselves has having been treated as an afterthought by the criminal justice system, they feel uninformed, isolated and lost within the system. This has been described by some professionals as a form of ‘secondary victimisation’ as it leaves those who are already fragile feeling as though they have been swept aside by procedural justice. [9]  

Studies have shown, however, that early interventions, offering support in an informative and proactive manner, are a way of helping individuals and families recognise the course of reactions and expectations following exposure to trauma and traumatic bereavement. [10]

Studies have recommended interventions that:

  • Treat the trauma reaction as normal, and within context, rather than as a medical problem to be fixed; and
  • Teach the bereaved person to understand and deal with their reaction through information, guidance and support. [11]

Not all road crash victims want or require support services, some prefer to rely on their own informal support networks. Often, what is important is that clear and coherent information is readily available for them to access. As this provides bereaved families with the ability to make their own informed choices about what is best for them and regain their autonomy.

This is the service that the Brake helpline aims to deliver, giving structured support designed to help people work through their experiences and come to terms with what has happened, however long that may take.

Government support

Ministerial responsibility

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is responsible for the welfare and support for victims of crime within the UK. This places many road crash victims, both bereaved and injured, within their mandate due to the frequency of collisions resulting from law-breaking driving. Unfortunately, this division of road crash victims between those who are victims of crime and those who are not, has led to uneven distribution of the services available to the bereaved and injured. [12]

The police currently provide all victims of fatal road crashes with a copy of the Brake Bereavement pack. Funded by the MoJ, this literature is designed to support those affected by road deaths; giving clear, accurate information and relevant contact details for services available to road crash victims. However, this the only ministry-funded support that those who are not classed as being ‘victims of crime’ will receive. [13]

Meanwhile, Scotland’s bereavement pack is currently funded by the Scottish government and in Northern Ireland the pack is funded by the Northern Irish police force (PSNI) not the government. Neither of these countries provide financial support to the Brake helpline.


Currently, the MoJ is pursuing a strategy aimed at “putting the victim first” in the criminal justice system. This policy aims to place the victim’s needs at the heart of the criminal process by making it more accessible and responsive for those who have experienced loss due to criminal actions and for whom this may be their first experience of the legal system. [14]

Subsequently, the MoJ updated its definition of ‘victim of crime’ to include all victims of road crashes involving illegal behaviour, and released its updated Code of Practice for Victims of Crime. The Code states, that in terms of road crashes:

 “If a family is bereaved following a road traffic collision where the police are investigating whether a criminal offence has been committed, a family spokesperson may be nominated.” [15]

This ‘spokesperson’ is the designated contact point for the police and other victim support services to keep families informed and updated on the relevant legal developments and court proceedings.

Although this policy was designed to help victims with little understanding of legal procedures, an inspection by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons stated that:

“Taking all these factors into account, we found that the overall standard of communications by the CPS with the bereaved family was poor in 75% of cases. There was no evidence of any specific monitoring by managers of the quality of communications or whether there had been compliance with the guidance.” [16]

This could be seen as evidence that the criminal justice system is not fulfilling its role to help victims navigate and understand Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) procedures. Furthermore, road crash victims have yet to be represented on the MoJ’s Victim’s Panel and neither the DfT nor the MoJ has made an effort to report the number of people killed or injured by law-breaking drivers. [17]

Political neglect combined with a social culture that is inclined to view road crashes as ‘an accident’ has left many affected by road crashes feeling like second-class victims. The level of charges and sentences to those convicted of causing death behind the wheel is a particular source of distress among families who have lost a loved one.

Drivers who kill, harm and endanger are often let off with grossly inadequate penalties, in some cases for inappropriately-termed charges, like ‘causing death by careless driving’. This often causes terrible insult and upset to bereaved and injured victims, leaving many feeling betrayed by our justice system as they are faced with a reality that only three in five people convicted of killing someone while driving are jailed, with an average sentence length of under four years. [18]

As a result, many victims are left facing the reality that Brake is now calling on the government to immediately review guidelines for both charging and sentencing criminal drivers.

Learn more: Read our fact pages on death and injury charges, the prosecution process and road policing in the UK.

Take action: Get involved with our Roads to Justice Campaign


In 2014, the MoJ awarded £35.71 million of its core department grants to victim support services; funding the National Homicide Service, the Court Based Victim Service and the Core Victim Service. Unfortunately, families bereaved by law-breaking drivers do not qualify as ‘homicide bereaved’, meaning they are unable to access the support provided by the Homicide Service to families bereaved by murder or manslaughter. [19]

In 2015 there were over two times the number of road deaths [20] than homicides [21] that took place in the UK. Yet the National Homicide Service will receive annual MoJ funding of £2.75 million (2015-2017). This is 25 times the amount of direct funding the MoJ grants to road crash victim support on an annual basis through Brake’s victim support services.

Furthermore, although the Victim’s Surcharge income rose to £52.9 million in 2014-15 (from £39.3 million in 2012-13), as the MoJ sought to ensure that criminals, not taxpayers, were contributing more to victim support services; funding for road crash victims has not increased [22]. The MoJ has instead chosen to freeze its national road crash support funding in 2013, leaving additional services reliant on funding from other departments or from the Police and Crime Commissioners [23].

Currently, the MoJ does not provide direct funding for those seriously injured in road crashes, though PCC are free to provide support for these victims should they choose to do so.

Support structures

Victims’ Commissioner

In 2013, Baroness Newlove was appointed to the post of Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales with the objective of promoting the interests of victims to the government and the wider public; encouraging best practice in victim support and keeping the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime under constant review. [24]

In her Annual Report 2013-14, Baroness Newlove supported a wider definition of ‘victims of crime’, however, she failed to include the vast majority of those injured by law-breaking drivers. Since then the MoJ has updated its understanding of ‘victim of crime’ to include those affected by law-breaking drivers. [25]

In 2016 the Victim Commissioner’s office released ‘What works in supporting victims of crime’, targeted at pulling together a comprehensive review of how best to respond to those affected by crime. Yet, in spite of its goals, the document failed to refer to any research into the needs of road crash victims, and didn’t even include this category of crimes in its search terms, despite the inclusion of ‘burglary’, ‘theft’, ‘vandalism’ and other crimes that do not involve fatalities; another example of the ‘invisibility’ of road crash victims compared to victims of other, and less serious crimes.

Police and Crime Commissioners

The Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are locally elected representatives charged with overseeing how crime is tackled within a police force region, with the aim of cutting crime and ensuring the police are an effective force. They are there to give a voice to the public at the highest level within the police and hold forces to account.

In 2013, the MoJ released the Victims’ Services Commissioning Framework which highlighted the importance of PCCs to the successful development of victim support services, and stated that maintaining a “collaborative approach to identifying outcomes” was vital. [26]

The 40 PCCs have since adopted the ‘local commissioning model’, shifting victim support responsibilities from the direct control of the MoJ to the PCCs’ remit. As a result in 2014-15, the MoJ assigned £24 million to PCC funding, ring-fenced for victim support. However, currently only a few of the PCCs are choosing to pursue specialist support services for road crash victims. [27]

Family liaison officers

Family liaison officers (FLOs) are police officers trained to work with the bereaved families to secure their confidence and trust, provide support, distribute information about the investigation and support agencies and to gather evidence relating to the investigation. It is standard operating procedure for the FLOs to hand out copies of the Brake bereavement pack to all victims affected by a fatal road crash and, in accordance with police protocol, they are obliged to highlight the Brake helpline.

Globally, the police investigate more road deaths than homicides, however a recent study of police road crash investigation found that many officers did not value road crash investigation, yet a recent inspection of UK road traffic incident investigation by the HMIC revealed a need for prioritisation by police. The report highlighted the good work carried out by the FLOs but noted that the role was not a “full-time” role nor as “valued” by many other members of the police force. [28]

Service providers

In England and Wales the government and some PCCs continue to fund specialist third-sector organisations to provide victim support services to those affected by road crashes. The national service, provided by Brake, offers crucial emotional support, information, connections to local specialist support (e.g. group support and counselling) and advocacy. PCC-funded support services for road crash victims varies from region to region, and is unavailable in many areas of the country.

Organisations which provide support to injured and bereaved victims include:

  • Brake: Provides support to those who have been injured or bereaved through a national helpline part-funded by the MoJ and online resources available on the Brake website. Brake provides the only government-funded support automatically provided to grieving road crash victims in the form of our bereavement packs.
  • Roadpeace: Provides support through a national helpline for road crash victims and networking with other victims through support programmes; practical information guides on post-crash legal procedures and advocacy and casework support.
  • SCARD (Support and care after road death and injury): Provides emotional and practical support to those bereaved, injured or affected by a road crash. It offers a helpline staffed by volunteers; literature on practical issues and access to free legal advice and professional counselling.
  • Learn + Live: Work to reduce deaths and injuries among young drivers and passengers, it also offers advice and support for families who have lost a young person where illegal, drink or drug driving was not involved.
  • The Samaritans: Operates a 24-hour helpline for anyone in need.


Additional resources

Victim’s Information Service: A nationwide service to help victims find local support after a crime takes place. The online service is designed to bring together information on what will happen following a crime and how to complain if anything goes wrong. This resource has received criticism for containing minimal information for families bereaved by crashes, and none for those injured, although information on support services for those injured or intimidated by other crime is provided. [29]

Victim Contact Scheme: Keeps victims and their close relatives aware of what is happening with the offender convicted during their case. This includes updating the victims on any changes to their sentence (i.e. parole for good behaviour) and informing them how and when they will be released.

However, none of these additional services are designed to specifically support those bereaved and injured during road crashes. Currently, Brake’s bereavement packs are the only government-funded support automatically provided to bereaved road crash victims.

Additional links

Roads to Justice
Brake’s helpline for road crash victims
Brake’s support guides for road crash victims
Sudden: supporting people after sudden death
Code of Practice for Victims (2015)
Victim Information Service
Victims’ Commissioner
European Federation of Road Traffic Victims (FEVR)

End notes

[1] WHO, Global status report on road safety, 2015
[2] DfT, Reported road casualties GB: Main results 2015, 2016
[3] European Federation of Road Crash Victims (FEVR)
[4] MoJ, Annual Report and Accounts 2014-15, 2015
[5] MoJ, Annual report and accounts 2014-15, 2015
[6] MoJ, Ministry of Justice funding awarded to Police Crime Commissioners for the commission and provision of victim support services in 2014/15, 2014
[7] FEVR, Justice and the post-crash response in the UN Decade of Action in road safety, 2015
[8] Wedlock, E & Tapley, J., What works in supporting victims of crime: a rapid evidence assessment, 2016
[9] Wedlock, E & Tapley, J., What works in supporting victims of crime: a rapid evidence assessment, 2016
[10] Dyregrov, A.; Early Interventions: a family perspective; 2001; Advances in Mind-Body Medicine; Vol.17, 160-196.
[11] Dyregrov, A.; Early Interventions: a family perspective; 2001; Advances in Mind-Body Medicine; Vol.17, 160-196.
[12] FEVR, Justice and the post-crash response in the UN Decade of Action in road safety, 2015
[13] FEVR, Justice and the post-crash response in the UN Decade of Action in road safety, 2015
[14] MoJ, Our Commitment to Victims, 2014
[15] MoJ, Code of practice for victims of crime, 2013
[16] HMIC & HMCPSI; Joint inspection of the investigation and prosecution of fatal road traffic incidents; 2015
[17] RoadPeace, The discrimination of road crash victims in England and Wales: update, 2016
[18] RoadPeace, The discrimination of road crash victims in England and Wales: update, 2016
[19] Victims’ Commissioner, Annual Report 2013-14, 2014
[20] DfT, Reported road casualties GB: Main results 2015, 2016
[21] Office of National Statistics, Crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2016, 2016
[22] MoJ, Annual Report and Accounts 2014-15, 2015
[23] MoJ, Ministry of Justice funding awarded to Police Crime Commissioners for the commission and provision of victim support services in 2014/15, 2014
[24] MoJ, Code of practice for victims of crime, 2013
[25] Victims’ Commissioner website
[26] MoJ, Victims’ Services Commissioning Framework, 2013
[27] MoJ, Ministry of Justice funding awarded to Police Crime Commissioners for the commission and provision of victim support services in 2014/15, 2014
[28] HMIC & HMCPSI; Joint inspection of the investigation and prosecution of fatal road traffic incidents; 2015
[29] RoadPeace, The discrimination of road crash victims in England and Wales: update, 2016

Last updated: November 2016

Tags: police road deaths road crash ministry of justice support