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UK Transport Safety Experts want an Independent Body for Road Safety

The Transport Safety Commission released an inquiry last month entitled ‘UK Transport Safety: Who is responsible?’ If applied, the findings could help to reduce the number of casualties from road traffic collisions. This would be seen as a success for the Transport Safety Commission, which is an independent body whose aim is to help fashion policies which will reduce risks and increase transport safety.

As well as having members from the UK Parliament, the Transport Safety Commission is made up of safety professionals from the road, rail and air sectors. Comparing the vastly superior safety standards of the rail and aviation sector to that of the road sector the Commission noted that responsibilities for safety in aviation and rail transport are well established. Accountability in road risk management however lacks clarity. From this the Commission recommended there be an independent body for road safety.

The inquiry made an interesting point that accident investigations in the air and rail sectors are focussed on learning, yet this is not the case for road collisions. Undoubtedly it would be too large a stretch on resources to start investigating every car crash, but could road collisions which result in death be investigated in a different manner so that we could learn more from them? The Transport Safety Commission recommended that an independent body for road safety could carry out investigations separate to the existing policing ones. Information from such reports could then be made accessible so as to facilitate further learning. This suggestion mirrors calls for greater transparency of data relating to road crime from victims and families of those who have been victim to drivers breaking traffic laws.

The inquiry reports that the number of deaths from driving as a part of work is far greater than the all the deaths that occur in the workplace. Because of fatal accidents on the road dominating fatal accidents at work, the ‘UK Transport Safety: Who is responsible?’ inquiry calls for employers and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to recognise work-related road casualties as their responsibility.

It would certainly be more consistent with other aspects of Health and Safety Law for a body like the HSE to take responsibility for investigating road traffic collisions where serious injuries or even death occurs. This would be particularly relevant where the accidents are potentially due to manufacturing problems with vehicles or employer liability issues (e.g. tired employees driving for too long) or even highways issues such as potholes.

Police investigate from a point of view of criminal prosecutions where the legal test is one of beyond reasonable doubt. It would help for an independent body to investigate to identify lessons to be learned and preventative measures which could be taken to avoid similar tragedies in the future. An investigation would encourage employers and public authorities to be more accountable to road users.

Jane Cooper is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer and Slater and Gordon UK.

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