Speech by deputy chief executive Julie Townsend at Brake Annual Reception, 11 January 2012

Good evening to you all.

This time last year, I spoke at this reception about road casualties falling at an unprecedented rate; I spoke about how many lives had been saved, injuries prevented, and the achievement this represented for everyone working in road safety.

I said it was a critical time for road safety; and I welcomed the fact that this vital social issue was moving up the global political agenda. But I also warned we must not rest on our laurels here in the UK on the basis that we are already a world leader in road safety - given that so many are still needlessly bereaved and inflicted with life-changing injury.

This warning was justified. The first half of 2011 saw, for the first time in a long time, a significant rise in road deaths in the UK, following a period of steep decline. Six months worth of data is too little to confirm a long-term trend, but we are not just talking numbers. We are talking about people’s lives being unnecessarily ended, prematurely and violently, futures and hopes dashed, families distraught and traumatised. 

The M5 crash in November was a terrible reminder of the horrifying reality of road crashes. The magnitude of this event meant it made the front page of every newspaper, was subject to a parliamentary debate, and sent shock-waves across the country. But while the scale of this tragedy was exceptional, sadly the suffering inflicted on the bereaved and injured victims was not. In terms of numbers of deaths, the equivalent of the M5 crash happens on our roads every 32 hours.

Our roads are among the safest in the world. But while we can make favourable comparisons like this, we must come back to the stark facts. Every day, five UK families will learn their loved one will never be coming home, will never smile or speak to them or hold them again, because they have been suddenly killed in a road crash. A further 65 families have to come to terms with the turmoil and pain of a serious injury, many permanent and life-changing.

Each one of these casualties is devastating for the families involved, as devastating as the M5 crash – Brake bears witness to this through our support services. Each one costs society dearly, through the awful consequences inflicted on individuals and families, and the burden placed on health and emergency services. And each one results from man-made and preventable circumstances.

Brake continues to campaign, in government, parliament, and in communities, to stop more families suffering in this way, and to ensure there is justice and support for those who do.
We are pleased to see progress by government in some key areas. This spring, an expert panel meets to explore improvements in drug driving law, something we have campaigned for long and hard.

We hope to also see this year improvements to the government’s guidance on setting speed limits, to enable local authorities to more easily implement life-saving 20mph limits. We will continue to engage government on this key issue, and support communities trying to persuade their authority to make this vital change. 

We will also be putting forward our views for the government’s forthcoming victims’ strategy and we hope this will pave the way for all bereaved and seriously injured crash victims to get the support they desperately need and deserve, but still don’t always get.

But in other respects, we are desperately concerned not enough is being done. So we will continue to push for a system of graduated driver licensing, to help tackle the appalling number of young driver crashes on our roads, and we will continue to push a zero tolerance approach to drink driving – policies that are internationally evidenced to prevent road carnage.

And sadly, over the coming months, we will also be working to oppose proposals that are likely to result in an increased death and injury toll if they are introduced - in particular, speaking out against the desperately inhumane and senseless policy of 80mph speed limits on motorways.

Across all these campaigns, we continue to draw on the invaluable and inspiring support of our volunteers, who speak out so bravely through the media and at events, to policy makers and the public, to build support for change and raise awareness about the devastation of road crashes. I would like to say a particular thank you to our volunteers who have been personally affected by death and injury on roads, some of whom I’m delighted to welcome here tonight.

We will also continue to work as hard as we can engaging government, parliamentarians, organisations and the general public to make things happen. The last decade was proof of how much can be achieved in road safety. We need to ensure this coming decade, which is the UN’s global Decade of Action on Road Safety, sees more action and more progress, towards safer and greener roads and communities, fewer people needlessly killed and injured, and justice and support for all those who are.

I will finish by stressing that everyone in this room can play a crucial role in this, and many of you already are. So please take the time this evening to speak to the Brake team – there are a number of us here tonight – and our fantastic volunteers, about how you can continue working with us to achieve these goals. I thank you all – volunteers, sponsors, partners, campaigners and fundraisers – for the support you have given Brake in the past year, and I thank you in advance for working with us in 2012 and beyond.

I’m very pleased now to hand you over to Maria Eagle MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, who has kindly offered to say a few words. Thank you.