RAC Foundation argues in favour of accident investigators02 January 2018

A policy paper published in December by independent research group the RAC Foundation proposes that the UK should establish an accident investigation branch for road transport.

Author Steve Gooding writes: “Our view is that the ‘learning loop’ for road safety – the backbone of good risk management through which experience is reviewed, changes implemented and their success monitored – is both incomplete and inchoate. Most of its elements are in place, but key connections are missing. Unless something different is done, it is very hard to see how the stubbornly stable number of deaths occurring year after year on our roads can be reset on the downward trajectory that we all want to see.”

It states that the government argues that setting up such an operation would duplicate effort already undertaken by police investigations, coroners’ recommendations and road safety research initiatives. (That was based on a House of Commons debate on the issue in March 2017).

The paper goes on to argue that road safety data and responsibilities are spread across multiple public-sector organisations. It adds: “We observe a lack of a genuine ‘systems’ approach in the current setup, and believe other industries have stolen a march over road safety in this respect. The systems approach is broader and more all-encompassing than the ‘safe systems’ thinking currently adopted in road safety, with the latter having as its focus the sharp end – drivers, cars and roads – in contrast to the wider vision of a systems approach, which takes in all the things that shape this environment. The question of why a crash has happened, and what could have prevented it or mitigated its impact, can be extremely complex.”

It argues that an AIB might perform data analysis to identify patterns and systemic weaknesses; alongside this, in-depth analysis of a sample of incidents; and research to establish, for example, the prevalence of identified risk factors.

The paper concludes: “Rather than debate theoretical models and guess at the potential costs and benefits, we believe it is time to put the concept into practice by establishing one or more pathfinders. The sooner the better.”

Entitled “Towards an Accident Investigation Branch for Roads”, the paper’s author, Steve Gooding, served as director general for roads, traffic and local at the Department for Transport.

Will Dalrymple

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