Speech by Brake's CE Mary Williams, 20.10.09

Speech made to the UK conference of road safety partnerships, Manchester

My opening premis is as such – “Road crashes, and inadequate support of bereaved road crash victims, are among modern society’s biggest social ills.”

For this reason, it would be peculiar if the voluntary sector wasn’t present, active and vocal. But on what basis does Brake claim that these two issues are among society’s biggest social ills?

The 5 over-arching reasons paint a fairly bleak picture of where we stand.

Firstly, road crashes remain widespread yet ignored. Only this weekend the BBC’s headlines included a report of two children seriously injured in a house fire. Yet as we now know thanks to the Government’s admission this month that they need to include hospital admissions in their casualty data, someone is hurt on UK roads every 39 seconds. If that level of casualty happened in any other transport type, it would be shut down.

Secondly, due to lack of public consciousness and arguably consequential lack of status among government priorities, road crashes remain largely a hidden concern, not addressed to any degree of significance in our education system, in the media, or in workplaces. It is fair to say that the average driver still drives with their destination and personal and professional concerns upper most in their mind, not with a sense of enormous responsibility and risk and hazard awareness.

Thirdly, worldwide, 2 in 100 people die in a road crash, according to the World Health Organisation, with the problem being worst in middle income countries where road development has progressed without appropriate facilities for pedestrians or cyclists such as off-road paths and crossings and low speed limits. Road deaths are among the top 10 causes of death, and the fourth biggest cause of death after heart conditions, lung conditions, AIDs and diarrohea. Road deaths are the only cause in the ‘top 10’ that is not due to a medical condition. In other words, it is the most common way that human beings kill other human beings or kill ourselves due to mistakes – significantly more common than war, murder, or death by fire, drowning or other ‘accidents’. Across the world, the poorest are most at risk, those who do not use cars are most likely to be mown down.

Fourthly, road deaths are among the most devastating deaths faced because they are sudden, violent and, most pertinently, often kill young; ripping apart families by killing children, young adults and young parents. In the developed world, 70% of deaths happen over the age of 70, compared with 21% in the poorest countries. So when a young death happens in the developed world it is against the natural order of things and the trauma, due to its unexpectedness and our lack of preparation, is grave. Yet, bizarrely, and again, I would hypothesise this is because of the lack of public consciousness of road deaths and consequential lack of government sense of urgency, families bereaved by road death receive next to none of the UK’s government’s budget for victim support, with it being instead directed to the more juicy types of deaths more favoured by the national media, including murder, manslaughter, rape, burglary. Brake makes the point time and time again that someone whose child has been killed in a road crash is much more in need of support than someone whose house has been burgled, and our cries continue to fall on deaf ears. We will not stop crying out for the rights of road crash victims.

Fifthly, and perhaps most critically, road deaths are caused by a cultural obsession in the developed world. A sense that it is a right, not a privilege to own and drive a car regardless of the enormous damage caused to our climate as well as risk posed to others. At least a quarter of carbon emissions in the UK are from motor vehicles, with more than half from cars. Yet most people in their personal or work lives feel no sense of moral incentive to consider other, safer, transport options or not make the trip at all. There appears to be much more moral debate about the damage caused by flying to a foreign holiday than whizzing around the UK on a daily basis in our cars. Time and time again I observe families who have many ethical principles, from recycling to holidaying in the UK, but who feel no need to even reduce their car usage. It’s too convenient. Too acceptable.

With these five over-arching reasons in mind, it is no surprise to discover the spread of Brake’s support base. The support base is made up of four distinct groups – 1. People personally affected by road death, injury or risk in their community – including bereaved and injured families but also teachers, youth leaders, parent-led campaigns, local politicians, local journalists. 2. Companies who operate fleets of vehicles and therefore deal daily with road risk, affecting their bottom line and corporate image. 3. Road safety professionals such as yourselves in local authorities and the emergency services, or academia. 4. Trauma / bereavement care specialists supporting road crash victims.

In other words, those people who do already have road safety in their consciousness for either personal or professional reasons. This is a select proportion of society, but nonetheless a powerful body of people who do, and will continue to, effect change for the better in their communities and on a nationwide basis and can do so best of all in partnership.

The job of Brake, as an independent nationwide charity, is to serve the interests of our support base and the nation as a whole to achieve the goals of stopping road deaths and in the interim provide humane support at appropriately significant levels to road crash victims. That inevitably means education and professional development of our existing support base and campaigns to raise active engagement through their road user behaviour among what we can describe as the ‘dormant’ populace, who have occasional concerns about road safety, often ardent (right or wrong) opinions about road safety, but often continue not to prioritise road safety in their behaviour.

We do this by providing partnership-based services that aim to team up different parts of our support base, including: 1) Education, professional development, and information exchange (through Resources (websites, print resources, video/viral materials, ebulletins), Events (workshops, conferences, training), Research (driver behaviour and parent surveys)); 2) Campaigns (Media, Political (I’m not going to focus on this today but many of you will be aware of our vociferous campaigns for graduated driver licensing, ISA speed limiters, more enforcement of large vehicle safety, and ring-fenced central funding for more 20mph limits, to name just a few). 3) Direct support services including a helpline and support literature.

What I’m now going to do is spend the rest of my presentation focussing on Brake’s service delivery and in particular showcase one initiative aimed at fleet drivers but useable by all drivers – the Pledge2DriveSafely.

The Pledge2DriveSafely campaign by Brake has run for the past decade - and has been developed in light of principles of driver psychology. I’m going to come on to explain what the campaign’s about in a minute but a good way to explain some of the underlying psychological principles behind the campaign is to consider the campaign in light of the principles outlined in the currently very-popular ‘Nudge’ philosophy which aims to improve decisions of health and happiness largely through campaigns of encouragement.

How many people in this room are familiar with Nudge? If you are not, it’s worth looking at the philosophy’s blog on their wordpress site.

Campaigns of encouragement such as Nudge can work in a number of ways and I outline three on this slide:

One way to encourage people is by attaching value to intangibles, such as health, love, community, relaxation (not driving in a fast, stressed state), rather than tangibles such as big, fast cars. A slower car journey can be a more enjoyable car journey. A train ride can be more social, and productive work-wise, than taking the car.

Another way is through enabling people to make public statements of intent – for example by pledging to drive safely as we do in this campaign – rather than just personal statements, made only to themselves and often therefore easily broken. Psychology studies tell us that attitudes and planned behaviour often don’t equate with actual behaviour. Awareness slips, and people are tempted or distracted.

Another way is through the public or more controlled shaming of people who don’t comply – for example, flashing neon signs that tell you your speed and show a sad face if you are breaking the limit, or public displays in company communal areas showing drivers who have had complaints made against them or praise given to them through freephone How’s my driving? numbers, or more enforcement-based measures such as corporate HR policies that mean drivers who commit traffic offences receive formal warnings and can be sacked.

The objective is to put egalitarianism at the centre of encouragement campaigns such as the Pledge2DriveSafely. That is, affirming and promoting equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people. Need I add that in these tightened economic times, such principles are beginning to come more naturally to many who can’t succumb to more materialistic temptations. An ideal environment to be pushing road safety and travelwise campaigns. The unemployed marketing executive is perfectly placed to start walking his kids to school.

The Pledge2DriveSafely itself is based on 7 golden rules as listed here on a form that drivers can sign either on line or on paper and are:Sober up (covering alcohol and drugs), wake up (don’t drive tired), buck up (don’t drive stressed or angry), check up (your vehicle, eg tyres), belt up (and adjust head restraints), shut up (don’t interact with any phone based technology or sat nav) ; and slow down (particularly on rural roads, and 20’s plenty in towns).

It’s snappy, it’s straight forward, and drivers won’t follow it - unless driver psychology principles are considered and appropriate measures put in place to address this.

Making a pledge is however a start, as I’ve already said. Actually putting pen to paper virtually or actually, and having that on your employment record is a step in the right direction.

The campaign then works through inculcation. It aims to effect behavioural improvements among drivers through inculcation of simple messages relating to 7 golden driving rules. We do this by various means.

Through one day workshops that we run across the country, we train fleet managers in workshop environments to use the Pledge website www.pledge2drivesafely.org; this includes giving them background advice on driver psychology and pressures on driver psychology as indicated here on this slide that led to the development of the campaign.

The training also includes exploring fleet managers’ knowledge of how to successfully lead discussions among their drivers in group settings through helpful facilitation rather than lecturing, and one to one coaching sessions, to achieve a positive culture to road safety that their own drivers engender through their own solution-finding and their own weeding out of inappropriate views through group discussion.

We support this training with an online manager’s guide, which also talks about additional measures companies can implement aside from the resources we make available for them, ranging from better recruitment procedures such as including psychometric testing, to driver monitoring through black box technology.

In addition the Pledge2DriveSafely website has numerous resources for drivers ranging from quizzes to discussion starters to videos featuring bereaved people telling their stories and giving road safety advice. Any fleet managers can access these by joining our Fleet Safety Forum or coming on a Pledge2DriveSafely workshop.

Kidd’s Distribution in Scotland has branded its vans with Pledge messages. Their managing director says that although the drivers understandably are affected by the sombre nature of their vehicles’ branding, they are proud of their vehicles, the evident display of social responsibility of their employer, and say that their own behaviour as drivers is improved as a result of the daily reminder to themselves on their vans.

We are very keen on easy access to our services. Our subscription services for professionals are cheap and of course not for profit, but the services we provide are high quality while complementing those offered by trade associations and government. In particular and of relevance to most of this audience, we pride ourselves on running an academic team providing up to the minute information from around the globe relating to research, initiatives, and services to inform busy professionals.

For example, our Road Safety Forum costs £40 a year to join and provides access to: - Fortnightly ebulletins of global road safety research, which can be hard for UK based road safety professionals to easily reach without trawling through academic bulletins from around the globe - ‘Meet the expert’ regional workshops led by key transport academics such as Lisa Dorn and an annual conference - Access to our own driver behavioural research based on interviews with thousands of drivers conducted in partnership with Direct Line - An emerging online library at exchange.brake.org.uk providing easy access to studies and initiatives on a wide range of road safety topics - Updates and opportunities for publicity involvement in our UK-wide PR and event-led campaigns, such as Road Safety Week (23-29 November this year – only 34 days away), and our Giant Walking Bus for primary schools (16 June 2010) - Access to bereaved and injured Brake volunteers and the powerful messages they bring

Our services for the public - in particular road crash victims but also schools and parents - are free and access encouraged through close links with the police and other agencies. For example our road crash victim support literature is distributed as a requirement of ACPO within its guidance to family liaison officers and as part of OCJR’s commitment to victims. It’s just a dreadful and shaming pity that this literature is the only thing the government funds for road crash victims.

For the public, we have a constantly evolving set of websites providing easy access to up to date campaign news and Brake opportunities to get involved, including through www.roadsafetyweek.org Please do get involved in the Week in whatever way you can, whether it’s issuing a press release or giving us a quote for a press release we can issue in your area, or buying a low-cost Road Safety Week banner to display in your area.

The posters we have developed this year for Road Safety Week for schools – available for free and thousands order them - are another example of partnership work with bereaved and injured families.

To give you a small taste of the other side of our work, BrakeCare, which supports road crash victims, we are also able to use this particular communication skill to the full in this division. On this slide you can see a cover of a book about to be published by the Amy & Tom project, which is an initiative by Brake to help all children suddenly bereaved by any cause – it has come out of a smaller project we have run specifically for children bereaved by road deaths.

This project, funded by the coop funeralcare following initial funding from children in need enables us to spread our expertise and benefit all suddenly bereaved children, whether their a parent has died of a sudden heart attack, a sibling has died of meningitis or someone has died in a road crash.

You might find this strange to begin with, but I’m going to end with this picture of a zebra zip sliding.

Trust me I have worn this outfit of Brake’s mascot Zak the Zebra in front of a classroom of kids and that was bad enough, so whichever commendable idiot did this in aid of raising funds for Brake has my sincere admiration.

This is, but it isn’t just, an opportunity for me to plug the great fun you can have fundraising for Brake. You don’t have to wear the zebra suit, you can climb a mountain, do a cycle ride or fun run, or sit in a bath of baked beans for all we care as long as we get the cash. We need it. About 90% of the costs of running our small team from our head office in Huddersfield comes from public donation or corporate giving, the remainder coming from charitable and government grants. Times are particularly tough in terms of corporate giving, so please do come up and see me at lunch if you would like to explore ways you can have fun and raise funds for Brake.

It’s also an opportunity for me to mention the wealth of local public campaigning Brake undertakes across the country – communities hire out Zak to be pictured in their local paper campaigning for drivers to slow down outside their schools. When Zak goes out, we tell the relevant Local Authority that he is coming so it can get involved as it considers fit, again creating opportunities for team work. This is of course in addition to our ongoing national campaigning in Parliament and Government for more funding for road engineering, enforcement and education which have not been the focus of my speech today but which take up significant time and are undoubtedly a very key role of an independent charity.

Zak’s zip sliding activities here also provides me with an opportunity to mention again how engagement in road safety can be helped by making it desirable, and socially acceptable, harking back again to the Nudge philosophy. Showing you this slide gives you an opportunity to think for a moment about how a team of people at work, or in a community, or in a school, are going to feel about their road safety behaviour if they have invested in time and effort to fundraise for Brake and our services for bereaved families. The fundraising element helps build their awareness and hopefully influences their behaviour. It’s all part of the same thing, that shift towards egalitarian concern and a hope for a better future.

Thank you for listening.

Tags: road crash speech