Vision Zero: It is time to stop accepting the inevitability of road death

By Will Cubbin, Safer Essex Roads Partnership Manager

Will has specialised in road casualty reduction and data analysis for more than a decade in Essex.

I was encouraged to hear that motorists in Southend were stopping to express their support for our new Enforcement Officers, a big part of whose job is mobile speed enforcement. Perhaps this is a sign of widespread support for our vision that nobody should die on our roads. It’s a refreshing change from the old cliché roads policing officers up and down the country will be familiar with; “You should be out catching murderers.”

Violent sudden deaths are always a tragedy and our colleagues in major investigation teams do an excellent job securing high conviction rates for homicide. Sadly however, even more people die as a result of road crashes than are murdered; during 2022 there were 16 homicides and 49 road deaths in Essex.

Nobody expects a journey will be their last, but the causes of road death are all too predictable; inappropriate speed, inattention and distraction, drug and alcohol impairment and non-wearing of seatbelts. The important thing about these causes being predictable, is that it also makes them preventable.

Each death represents a family devastated, friends heartbroken and witnesses mentally scarred. On top of this we have 750+ serious casualties per year, with around 10% of these resulting in life-changing injuries such as brain damage, spinal injury and limb amputation. A single event that resulted in 49 deaths and 75 more life-changing injuries would make national headlines for days on end. These tragedies happen in 1s and 2s so they go under the radar, sometimes reported in local papers, sometimes not.

Often the most publicity a fatal crash will receive is the travel news covering the inconvenience of the resulting traffic congestion. Why should we accept these deaths as the price we must pay for using the roads?

It is time to stop accepting the inevitability of road death, but what can people do to protect themselves and others?

The internationally tried and tested approach is known as the safe system. The safe system applies five layers of protection to ensure death and serious injury are not the result when one or two of the layers fail. These layers comprise safe speeds, safe vehicles, post-crash response, safe roads and safe road users. This gives everyone a part to play in keeping themselves and each other safe on the roads. This means it is important for everyone to understand they are part of a system when using the roads, and not an independent actor in competition with other road users.

We all know that higher speeds reduce the time and space to react to the unexpected and result in more severe injuries. We all know alcohol leads to poor decision making and slower reactions. We all know driving is a task that requires our full attention and that seatbelts vastly reduce injuries in the event of a crash. If we are serious about ending road death we must put this knowledge into practice on every journey without exception.

The good news is that road death is not inevitable, and collectively the people of Essex already achieve zero road deaths on more than 300 days each year. Because we can avoid road death, we have a moral obligation to achieve this every single day, and to expand this achievement to include zero serious injuries as well.


07 August 2023

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