Campaigning for justice following road death and injury

By Julie Townsend, Brake’s deputy chief executive

As well as campaigning to make roads safer and prevent tragedies, each day Brake provides support to the many families who suffer the horror of a road death or serious injury. These families must endure the shock, trauma and intense emotional repercussions of a sudden bereavement or injury. They must face bewildering practical matters, from organising a funeral unexpectedly, to working out how they will pay the bills, to reorganising their day-to-day lives. And very often, they must face the additional insult of injustice – a sense their loved one’s life, or their injury, is worth little in the eyes of the law.

Since we started supporting bereaved and injured road crash victims, nearly two decades ago, we have time and time again heard from these vulnerable families that they have felt let down and betrayed by our justice system, that their anguish has been compounded by inappropriately worded charges and insultingly low penalties.

We believe these families deserve justice,  and we believe the crimes Back our crackdown campaignthat lead to loss of life and terrible suffering on our roads should be treated seriously. That’s why through our Crackdown campaign we are calling for much tougher charges and penalties following road death and injury, as well as greater levels of traffic policing and higher fines for driving offences at all levels.

We don’t believe it’s right that a driver who has ended another person’s life, or caused a horrific injury, and turned a family’s world upside down, while driving on drugs, uninsured or disqualified, or speeding, should receive just a few months in jail – yet that’s not an uncommon outcome. We don’t believe it’s right that a driver who has killed or seriously injured while taking a risk and breaking the law should be deemed merely ‘careless’ in the eyes of the law – yet that is often the case. A survey by Brake and Direct Line released last week shows the public agree with us that change is needed.

Charges and penalties for drivers who kill and seriously injure need a major overhaul by the Ministry of Justice – to ensure they reflect the suffering caused and make it clear that these crimes are abhorrent and will not be tolerated. Sentencing guidelines need toughening up by the Sentencing Council – to ensure courts hand out the full range of penalties up to the maximum in the most serious cases.

It was encouraging to see this issue being debated in Parliament in January, and to hear Justice Minister Jeremy Wright agreeing to further consider the issue. We hope, for the sake of suffering road crash victims, and deterring risky law-breaking on our roads, this will lead to reform, and justice finally being done.

Read more and back the campaign: 
Brake and Direct Line’s report on public opinion on charges and penalties for causing road death and injury
Overview of Brake’s calls for action on charges and penalties
Write to your MP calling for action, using Brake’s online tool

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Appeal to drivers: tune in to road safety and turn off your phone

Believing we’re capable of doing two things at once is a common misconception that can get us into trouble in our daily lives, but on the roads it can lead to catastrophe. Yet statistics we’re releasing today, at the start of Road Safety Week, show the huge number of UK drivers kidding themselves they can get away with using their mobile or otherwise multi-tasking at the wheel – and how often they are putting vulnerable road users at risk.

Research out today by Brake and our Road Safety Week partners Specsavers and Romex shows there are 575,000 UK drivers with points on their licence for mobile phone use at the wheel or other types of driver distraction [1]. The vast majority of these drivers are male, so it’s mainly the male driving population who we need to get the message across to about the huge risk this poses. We are also releasing results of a survey of children, showing the extent to which they are being endangered by drivers for the sake of a call or text. Six in 10 (62%) say they’ve been driven by a driver on a phone, while eight in 10 (79%) have spotted drivers on phones around their school and home [2].

We don’t know for sure how many casualties result from phone use and other distractions (as the figures aren’t available) but it’s estimated to be in the region of one in five [3]. We also know without a shadow of a doubt that drivers who use their phone at the wheel, even on hands-free, are putting themselves and others in great danger. The proven fact is that virtually none of us can successfully multi-task at the wheel [4], and using a phone makes you several times more likely to cause a serious crash that could cost you or someone else your life. It significantly hinders your ability to react and control your vehicle safely [5], posing a particular risk to people on foot and bicycle.

In fact, in many ways, using a phone or being otherwise distracted is comparable to drink driving in the way it affects your ability to respond to what’s happening around you. One study indicated that talking on a phone hands-free at the wheel slows your reaction times significantly more than if you were drink-driving just over the limit [6]. Yet many drivers who wouldn’t dream of drink-driving are happily taking and making calls, and maybe even checking or sending the odd text, when they should be focusing on the critical task at hand: driving safely.

As Road Safety Week kicks off – the UK’s biggest road safety event, coordinated by Brake – we’re appealing to everyone, but drivers especially, to tune into road safety and stay focused when using roads. That means if you’re driving, switching off your phone or ideally putting it in the boot to avoid temptation, and never attempting to do anything other than driving when at the wheel. We’re also appealing to everyone to never put friends, family or colleagues in danger by chatting to them on the phone when they’re driving – you can hear when someone picks up and they’re driving, so end those calls as soon as possible.

If we are to stop people needlessly losing their lives and suffering life-changing injuries on our roads, then we must start taking phone use and other distractions at the wheel as seriously as we do drink driving. Both are reckless, risky and needless, and both can and do lead to tragedy.

Read more:
About the tune in to road safety campaign
Brake’s campaign launch press release
More facts on driver distractions
Bereaved and injured volunteers supporting the campaign

End notes:
[1] Analysis of Freedom of Information requests to the DVLA by Brake in August 2013.
[2] Results of a survey of more than 13,000 children age 7-11 from across the UK by Brake, Romex and Specsavers, conducted May – October 2013. See full results.
[3] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk: an analysis using the 100-car naturalistic driving study data, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006
[4] Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability, University of Utah, 2010
[5] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk: an analysis using the 100-car naturalistic driving study data, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006
[6] Using a hands-free mobile whilst driving can be more dangerous than drink driving, Transport Research Laboratory, 2009

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Higher fines for risky drivers, at last – we hope it makes a difference

Today fixed penalty notice fines for endorsable driving offences like speeding, mobile phone use and not wearing seatbelts were upped to £100 (plus three points), having stood at £60 since 2000. At the same time, police were given powers to issue fixed penalty fines, also of £100 plus three points, for lower-level ‘careless driving’ offences like tailgating.

It’s a much-welcome, if long-overdue move, in our view. The extra powers for police should help more drivers to be caught and punished for risky manoeuvres, and hopefully encourage greater respect for important rules on roads.

We have also long thought the previous £60 fixed penalty fine grossly inadequate for law-breaking that can, and often does, lead to horrific injuries and loss of life. For many drivers, it’s little more than a slap on the wrist, less than the cost of filling up the tank, and encouraged the scarily prevalent view that breaking a law at the wheel isn’t a real crime.

It’s well evidenced – and obvious – that higher fines pose a greater deterrent against law-breaking. And it’s very clear that the sorts of behaviours we’re talking about here – speeding, phone use at the wheel, tailgating – pose a danger to others and cause casualties. So we sincerely hope that upping fines to £100 will encourage more drivers to think twice and apply extra diligence when it comes to staying within the law and driving safely. But we would rather the increase went much further.

Considering that, potentially, you can be fined £1,000 for smoking in the wrong place or dropping litter in the park, is £100 an appropriate level for driving offences? Considering the suffering inflicted on families every day by risky, law-breaking behaviour at the wheel, and the scope to prevent this suffering, surely £1,000 would be more appropriate? 

We believe fines for driving offences should go up further, and hope they won’t stay static for another 13 years. But in the meantime, we hope today’s change sends a message to drivers that the laws on our roads are real laws, in place to protect people’s lives, and breaking them is irresponsible, dangerous and won’t be tolerated.

Read more:
Brake’s crackdown campaign for tougher penalties and enforcement on roads
The Department for Transport’s announcement of today’s changes

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It’s clear many drivers need to sharpen up and get their eyes tested

Brake had a phenomenal response from the media this morning to the launch of our campaign calling on drivers to get their eyes tested every two years. Working with RSA and Specsavers, we released a survey of 1,000 drivers, showing that a huge proportion aren’t getting their sight tested nearly often enough. One in four (26%) haven’t had a test in the past two years, while a significant minority, the equivalent to a million UK drivers, have never been tested at all.

We were kept busy giving nearly 50 radio interviews on the topic this morning. While no one was doubting the importance of good eyesight to safe driving – it’s obviously crucial you can see properly to be able to spot and respond to hazards, signs and other road users – a common question was the significance of the results. If drivers aren’t visiting the opticians, isn’t that because their sight is fine? Surely you would notice if you couldn’t see?

But the key point, which surprises many people, is that your vision can deteriorate a great deal without you realising you have a problem. This is shown by research and backed up by opticians, who often find new customers have let things linger and often get much worse before acknowledging that an eye test is called for.

Regular eye tests – we and other experts advise at least every two years – are therefore the only way for drivers to be certain their vision is up to scratch and they’re not putting themselves and others in great danger. It doesn’t cost much, and it could save your life or someone else’s. It could also save you major eye health problems, by helping to catch treatable, and potentially serious, conditions early on.

That’s why we need to get the message out to more drivers that regular eye tests are a critical part of safe and responsible driving. And that’s why we’d like to see the government making such tests compulsory. Introducing a requirement for drivers to prove they have had a recent eye test with an optician at the same time as renewing their licence photocard would be a relatively simple step, but one we have reason to believe would be effective. Evidence suggests it would help to improve road safety, and pay for itself many times over by preventing costly and devastating crashes.

Read more and back the campaign:
Brake’s news release, including full survey results, on driver eyesight
About Brake’s sharpen up campaign
Fit to Drive: a cost benefit analysis of more frequent eyesight testing for UK drivers, RSA

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Letting kids live

A month from now, thousands of children across the UK will be marching for safer roads, as part of Brake’s Giant Walking Bus. The event encourages primary schools to educate kids on road safety, through running creative and practical activities, but more importantly it sends out a message about adults’ responsibilities in protecting kids on foot.

Children are arguably our most vulnerable and most important road users. ‘Most vulnerable’ because, however well we educate children on road safety, they can’t be expected to always make the right decisions to protect themselves: they must be safeguarded. ‘Most important’ firstly on the basis that a death or serious injury of a child on roads is utterly devastating and unacceptable in civilised society. And secondly because children’s ability to get out and about is critical to their development and health. It’s important for all of us, but children are especially likely to be prevented from walking and cycling by road danger, and it’s well evidenced that a lack of physical activity in childhood can bring about long-term health problems.

Last week, to mark the UN’s Global Road Safety Week, which focused on the theme of pedestrian safety, Brake and Hampson Hughes Solicitors released a survey of 500 primary schools gauging their views on road safety in their area. Although we know that schools are switched on to the importance of road safety, we were surprised that more than three in four (77%) are actively campaigning on the issue. Schools are also well aware of the importance of slowing traffic to protect kids: eight in 10 (81%) say they want a 20mph limit in their area; only 12% say they already have one.

To launch the findings, we teamed up with London Fields Primary

London Fields Primary School help promote the GO 20 campaign

London Fields Primary School help promote the GO 20 campaign

School in Hackney, and Hackney Council, in an area that is reaping the rewards of ‘GOing 20’, and safer streets for kids and adults. In recent years they have seen a range of road safety improvements, including a 20mph limit, crossings and cycle paths. Plus the Borough has made the switch to 20mph limits as the norm across most of its streets – so, critically, it’s not just a limited area immediately around the school that’s been improved. As I walked from the station to the school on the morning of the launch event, it was immediately apparent this is a place where people come first: it looked and felt pedestrian and cyclist friendly. And the school are clear about the great results it’s had: more kids walking and cycling.

We need more councils to follow the lead of Hackney and the many others around the country that are deciding to ‘GO 20′ across whole towns, boroughs, cities and villages, to help create safe havens for walking and cycling. We hope more will listen to the kids and schools marching for road safety next month in our Giant Walking Bus. It’s good for road safety, public health, the environment, and local economies. But perhaps most importantly it’s good for kids and the rest of us – enabling us to live active, happy lives.

Read more:
Brake and Hampson Hughes’ survey of schools and launch event
Evidence on the impact of switching to 20mph limits
About Brake’s Giant Walking Bus for primary schools
Support the GO 20 campaign

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Vital steps to stamp out drug driving

Today the family of Lillian Groves, who was killed aged 14 by a driver on cannabis, presented a 22,000-signature strong petition to Downing Street, calling for deadly drug driving to be stamped out. The Groves have been campaigning alongside Brake, and other families who have experienced devastation at the hands of drugged drivers, to call for a long-overdue change in the law, and roadside drug screening equipment. And I’m pleased to say their efforts have yielded significant and unprecedented progress.

Although we don’t know how many lives are lost and destroyed due to drug driving each year (accurate statistics aren’t available), studies indicate this is a huge and possibly growing menace. A survey of young drivers by Brake and Direct Line last year found one in nine admitted driving after taking drugs at least once in the past 12 months [1]. An academic study found one in six drivers killed on UK roads have at least traces of illegal drugs in their bodies [2]. And research shows the effects of taking drugs on driving can be lethal. For example, taking cannabis doubles a driver’s chances of being in a crash that kills, and when combined with alcohol this risk increases 16-fold [3].

Following years of campaigning by Brake, and intensive lobbying by the Groves, last year the government committed to introducing a new offence of driving with drugs in your body and screening equipment for police – and now a drug driving bill is making its way through Parliament.  The government has been consulting experts on the technical aspects of the law, including where limits should be set for different substances, and trials of screening equipment have been taking place.

This change in the law is critical, because at the moment it is only an offence to drive while impaired through drugs, and the need to prove impairment makes prosecution difficult and therefore relatively rare. We may well ask (and indeed many are) why has it taken so long for this to happen when some other countries have had such a law and roadside screening for years. But it’s without doubt things are now moving along apace – we’re expecting the new legislation to be in place by summer 2014 – and the focus now needs to be on making sure these changes are effective.

We need the ‘limits’ to be set as low as possible, so potentially dangerous drug drivers are not allowed to slip through, and so there is a clear message that taking illegal drugs and driving won’t be tolerated. We need to raise public awareness about the changes – as the Groves are hoping to do through presenting their petition – and we need the government to ensure police are properly equipped with devices that detect a range of substances.

Alongside this, we are also calling for a wider government commitment to roads policing. Crucial though it is to bring in this law and screening devices to tackle drug driving, we must have sufficient numbers of police conducting checks and patrols, catching dangerous drivers before they wreak destruction, and posing a strong deterrent against taking deadly risks. Roads policing has been severely cut in the past few years: a trend that must be halted [4]. Investment in effective traffic enforcement is not only critical in protecting the public, it pays for itself many times over through preventing costly crashes [5].

So at the same time as commending the government for progress being made on drug driving – and the Groves for their determined campaigning to bring this about – we must also turn our attention to the delivery of roads enforcement, and urge much greater political priority to be given to this life-saving work. 

Read Brake’s media release on the Groves’ petition 
Read about Brake’s campaign on drink and drug driving

End notes:
[1] Brake and Direct Line Report on Safe Driving, PART SIX Young drivers, Brake and Direct Line, 2012
[2] The incidence of drugs and alcohol in road accident fatalities, Transport Research Laboratory, 2000
[3] Cannabis intoxication and fatal road crashes in France: population based case-control study, French National Institute for Transport and Safety Research, 2005
[4] Data on roads policing supplied to Brake through Freedom of Information requests from 52 UK police forces (of which 43 supplied complete information), Brake 2011
[5] Peden M, World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, World Health Organization, 2004

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The vital role of employers in making roads safer

Nearly one in three journeys on our roads are made by someone who is at work at the time, travelling for business purposes [1]. These drivers are thought to be particularly at risk of crashing – 30-40% more likely than people driving in their own time [2]

A survey published today by Brake and Direct Line reveals some of the bad, potentially deadly, habits of many people who drive for work. It finds a huge proportion use their phone at the wheel – more than half to talk, and one in three to text – and three-quarters endanger pedestrians and cyclists by speeding at more than 35mph in built up areas. And shockingly, these drivers, whose livelihoods depend on them having a licence, are more likely to take these horrendous risks than not-at-work drivers [3].

There are numerous possible reasons. Firstly, many people who drive for work spend a lot of time at the wheel, and this regularity no doubt breeds complacency and a sense of being able to get away with risky behaviour. But it’s also likely that many people who drive for work feel under additional pressure – imposed by themselves or their manager – to attempt to multitask at the wheel, and get to their destination as quickly as possible at any expense. That’s why it’s crucial not only for people who drive for work to take greater responsibility for their own and others’ safety, but also for employers to do everything they can to ensure their staff are safe and not putting others in danger.

In fact, employers have a duty of care to take steps to manage and reduce risks faced and posed by staff driving on work time – whether it’s a commercial vehicle, company car, or the employee’s own vehicle being driven to work appointments. Many organisations work very hard to do this, by monitoring drivers, journeys and incidents, and ensuring vehicles are well-maintained, journeys are well planned, and staff are trained and briefed so they know to always put safety first and that risky behaviour won’t be tolerated. Brake’s annual Fleet Safety Awards,  and the guidance and seminars we provide year-round through our Fleet Safety Forum, recognise and promote good practice in this field, holding up examples of organisations that have made great strides in fleet safety.

But the statistics show there is more many employers could be doing to put in place comprehensive fleet safety practices and promote safe driving. Many of our Fleet Safety Award winners not only fly the flag for safe driving internally, but are passionate advocates for safe, responsible, compassionate road use, promoting road safety to customers, suppliers and the wider community. If more organisations were to follow this lead it could have a huge and remarkable affect on UK road safety, as well as delivering welcome cost-savings and other business benefits to these organisations.

Read more about Brake’s Fleet Safety Awards and Conference
Read more on Brake and Direct Line’s survey of at work drivers
Find out about Brake’s Fleet Safety Forum subscription and seminars

[1] National Travel Survey 2010, Department for Transport
[2] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain 2010, Department for Transport
[3] Brake and Direct Line survey of at work drivers, January 2013

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