Transport safety: Is the law an ass?

Organisation: RAC Foundation
Date uploaded: 7th July 2009
Date published/launched: May 2009

Why is there a separate accident investigation branch for the marine, rail and aviation modes of transport but not for roads where far more people are killed each year?

And is the investigation into crashes on the roads more focused in establishing blame and culpability than learning broader safety lessons?

These are the two central questions which Dr Chris Elliott addressed in his paper for the RAC Foundation called Transport safety: is the law an ass?

In the last eleven years 337 people have died in UK air accidents.

In the same period 114 have died in train accidents.

And 53 people have been killed in UK territorial waters or on UK registered vessels.

For each of these accidents there was provision for an exhaustive inquiry by the Air, Rail or Marine Accident Investigation Branches. Yet astonishingly, when it comes to accidents on the nation’s roads – where almost 36,781 people died over the same span of time – there is no provision for a similar body to uncover what happened and then make safety recommendations to prevent the same type of thing reoccurring. Which means many of the deaths might have been avoided.

Historically road accidents are analysed by individual police forces with the emphasis placed on finding out if anyone has broken the law. Identifying the underlying causes of crashes seems to be of secondary importance, but there is a real need for road safety to be driven by prevention as well as punishment. The focus on solely penalising individuals rather than also identifying systemic safety failings is a serious flaw in current transport policy.

For more information contact:
Elizabeth Box
T: 020 7747 3448

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