Speech by campaigns director Julie Townsend at Brake's annual reception, 19.01.11

Good evening to you all.

I think it’s fair to say that this is a critical time for road safety and for Brake.

Road safety is undoubtedly moving up the global political agenda – and certainly not ahead of time. 2011 marks the start of the UN’s Decade of Action on Road Safety, an event that aims to raise awareness about the appalling scale of road deaths and injuries across the globe, and to galvanise governments, agencies and NGOs in acting to tackle this epidemic.

[PAUSE for 6 seconds] During that brief pause, which lasted six seconds, someone else, somewhere in the world, will have been killed or maimed on the roads. By 2020, it’s forecast that the annual road death toll globally will stand at 2 million – that’s the populations of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester combined.

The UN’s Decade of Action will primarily focus on reversing the increase in casualties in developing nations. Here in the UK, thankfully, casualties have been falling for more than two decades. Thankfully, we are part of a nation that’s regarded as a world leader in road safety, with one of the lowest road death rates.

And yet, it would be very wrong for us to spend tonight merely congratulating ourselves on the successes we have seen in road safety.

Because it remains the case that every day in the UK, six people leave their house, to go to work, or school, or to the shops, and never come back. Instead, their families receive a knock on the door from a police officer bearing the impossibly awful news that their loved one is gone forever, killed suddenly and violently on our roads.

And it remains the case that 70 more families each day must deal with the aftermath of a serious injury on our roads – many of which change their lives forever.

And it remains the case that many communities across the country live in fear of dangerous traffic, afraid to let their children walk or cycle in their own neighbourhood, impeding their health and development.

For these reasons, we must continue to strive to make our roads safer, and bring casualties down. They are devastating to families, and they are also, it is worth remembering in the current climate, an enormous economic burden. Yet they are preventable, and therefore, ultimately, we shouldn’t accept any number, except zero.

Last week Brake attended a Government consultation seminar on the development of a new road safety strategy, to take us beyond 2010, when the last strategy expired. The contents of this document are, of course, critical. The contents, we would argue, are major determinants of whether we continue to bring casualties down, and whether we bring them down as rapidly as we possibly can as leaders in road safety, or whether we let them increase once more, based on a complacency that we are already doing enough.

In other words, lives are staked on this piece of paper – and I believe it’s justified to put it in those stark terms.

Because of this, we believe it’s essential that this piece of paper sets out challenging targets for reducing casualties over the next decade.

We believe it’s essential that it includes key national policies which evidence shows will helps us to achieve these targets: actions, during this Decade of Action on Road Safety.

And, at its heart, we believe this strategy should contain a long-term vision for reducing road deaths and serious injuries to zero.

Over the coming weeks we will continue to push these points to Government.

But at the same time as engaging policy makers nationally, Brake continues to work on the frontline, with your vital support, to care for those families devastated by a road death or injury.

We are proud to say that now, as well as being the national provider of Government-funded support literature for bereaved families, we are also deploying immediate support workers via our helpline. This is a vital service, offering face to face emotional support for families in their darkest hours, plugging a desperate gap in the support available to those in the immediate aftermath of a bereavement.

Although we are in need of funding to roll out this service more widely, and will be lobbying the Ministry of Justice in the hope of achieving this, we are starting to offer this service on a small scale, with backing from the Association of Chief Police Officers, and with the crucial assistance of police forces around the country.

We also continue, with your vital support, to work with communities around the UK to spread road safety awareness, and to help schools, families and individuals fight for safer roads. Road Safety Week, our main forum for supporting grassroots action on road safety, continues to go from strength to strength, engaging thousands of schools, communities and organisations each year. I know many of you in the room were involved in making last year’s event a success, and I am certain that you’ll all be involved in this year’s.

I would like to finish by reiterating Deborah’s words on just how important you all are to this relatively small, but incredibly determined, passionate, and rather loud, charity. Our frontline work, which I have just touched upon briefly, simply would not happen without you.

And I’d like to urge you all to use tonight, as well as an opportunity for networking and enjoying the wine and canapés, to think how you can best support Brake in 2011. We’re in January, a time for resolutions, and we’re at a time when your support is really critical to the charity.

Please take the opportunity to chat to our fantastic Brake team here tonight about how you can help us and work with us this year for the benefit of road safety.

Thank you for your time.