Brake annual reception, January 2017

Speech by Mary Williams OBE, chief executive, Brake, annual reception for the charity, Westminster, 25 January 2017

To quote Martin Luther King, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Time is an unruly beast however. 

It has a habit of speeding up and slowing down.

For busy families, and busy workers, in our busy world, it moves fast. The temptation to multi-task; to drive while on a smart phone, to break speed limits, to take the car rather than cycle and save the planet, are life-threatening, climate endangering behaviours fuelled by pressures of time. They cause drivers to prioritise ‘in the moment’, wrongly, and to devastating effect.

Time can stop in a moment.

Time grinds to a halt when someone is killed or seriously injured in a road crash. Our routines are suspended. Suddenly, our attention is focussed.

It’s beautifully summed up in WH Auden’s famous poem so often used at funerals.  “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Scribble on the sky the message “he is dead”.”

Yet, consumed by grief and distress, we are given a strange and precious gift. We are given the gift of sight. We can see what matters above all – people and life. As Auden puts it: “he was my north, my south, my east, my west.”

Whether we can see it or not, the time is always right to put humanity first.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” 

There are so many affected families who work alongside Brake, bravely, to fight for humanity. To fight for what others cannot see through the haze of the day to day.

To fight for appropriately grave sentences for drivers who kill and injure through wanton actions:

use of smart phones and other on-board screens.

drink and drug driving.

speeding, or driving unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured.

knowingly driving a mechanically unfit vehicle or driving tired.  

Campaigning takes time – frustrating amounts of time. Brake has been fighting for tougher sentences for more than 20 years. Last year, working with affected families, we elevated our Roads to Justice campaign in the media.

The current government consultation road traffic offences provides a real and urgent opportunity to redress paltry sentencing.

There are so many campaigns that Brake has found, to our cost, take inordinate time, when the road ahead seems so clear.

There are so many campaigns we have consistently supported, are still outstanding and that this government has a chance to resolve. 

A reduction in the drink drive limit, to stop our country being infamous for having the highest limit in Europe.

The government has the public with them. More than three quarters of drivers we surveyed in partnership with Direct Line think our limit is too high.

Approved testing devices to catch MDMA and cocaine drivers.

20mph limits as a default for built up roads.

A country-wide network of segregated cycle lanes that connect places, enabling, fast, healthy, zero emission transport.

Prioritisation of pedestrianisation, with wide and safe pavements, crossing places and livable traffic free spaces, enabling people to move our bodies, talk to our children, meet our neighbours. Invigorating communities.

A country with transport powered by clean fuels, to end the carnage of respiratory deaths from particulate pollution. There is more than one way a vehicle can kill you.  

Vehicles, speed, air pollution and people just don’t mix. It’s possible, but not yet, that automated vehicles of the future will be able to stop on a penny for every hazard.

But that doesn’t and will never change our need to move our bodies, and consequently be healthy, happy people, particularly our children and their need to walk, run, hop and skip in safety and while breathing clean air.   

This week’s very high air pollution warning in London and the mayor’s announcement of “toxic air audits” at London schools drives home the importance of super-charging policy measures to enable low-carbon transport. 

Brake is fighting for a world that is safe, green, clean and fair, with zero road casualties and emissions from transport. This is a vision of sustainable mobility.

The United Nation’s 2020 deadline is rapidly approaching, for a halving of road deaths and injuries globally through safe systems and the 2030 goal of clean transport.  

This government has the power to stop the clock. To see what needs to be done. To be at the forefront of road safety solutions globally.

Over the past year, Brake has looked hard at our role providing education. We’ve particularly reflected on the difficulties of a campaigning, awareness raising charity achieving immediate behavioural change among individual drivers. Our surveys tell us time and again that many drivers understand risks, and do it anyway.

More than half of 25-34 year old drivers we questioned last year admitted sending or reading messages while driving.

Behavioural changes takes time. We haven’t got time.

The reality is that, while Brake can raise awareness, change needs to come from the top, and fast. 

To provide more funding for victim support.

To eliminate road casualties through safe systems.

To enable all vehicles to be clean vehicles.

But together we are so much stronger. I want to thank all supporters of the charity who help enable that change.

The families bereaved and injured, and their supportive communities, who raise awareness of the cause and fundraise.

The teachers who promote Road Safety Week in their schools, enabling children to pester power their parents to slow down.

The police and other road safety professionals, particularly family liaison officers, doing such an important task supporting affected families.

The companies prioritising managing their road risk, investing in low-carbon transport, or providing funds to the charity.

To our governments for part-funding Road Safety Week and our national victim helpline.

And last but not least to the Brake team of staff I am privileged to work with, many of whom are here tonight also.

When a life ends, time is suspended. We have clarity. Let’s use that clarity to keep fighting for humanity.