Global Road Safety Decade –half over but still no justice

Today marks the halfway point of the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety.  Launched on 11 May 2011, the UN Global Road Safety Plan aimed to first stabilise the rise in road deaths (1.3 million deaths in 2011), before reducing the toll.

When first discussed in 2009, this plan had four pillars – Road Safety Management, Safer Roads, Safer Road Users and Safer Vehicles – that sought to avoid pain, death and suffering and a fifth – on the post crash care – that sought to alleviate them. The fifth pillar was, however, narrowly conceived and only covered medical treatment.

What was missing was justice. RoadPeace and FEVR (European Federation of Road Traffic Victim Associations) were quick to call for change. WHO renamed Pillar 5 to Post Crash Response, expanding its scope to include the promotion of civil compensation, criminal justice, support for victims and crash investigation. Specifically, Post Crash Response Pillar Activity 5 was to: Encourage a thorough investigation into the crash and the application of an effective legal response to road deaths and injuries and therefore encourage fair settlements and justice for the bereaved and injured.

But five years on and over six million road deaths later, we see virtually no progress.

No Justice–not yet

Under Pillar 3 Safer Road Users, the WHO, with assistance from the Bloomberg Foundation, has invested in traffic law enforcement.  It has compared national efforts with speeding, drink and drug driving, and motorcycle helmet use and produced a road safety manual on road safety legislation. But, under Pillar 5, there has been no comparable review on how criminal charges are applied after a road death or serious injury.

More needed

RoadPeace and FEVR continue to lobby for justice. At WHO’s international road safety conference in November 2016, we organised the (only) session on Justice  and RoadPeace produced the briefing on Justice and the Post Crash Response in the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

But still no action. At the recent UN Road Safety meeting in New York in April, another plea was made for WHO to deliver the justice related activities. And since then, RoadPeace has been asked to provide WHO’s Pillar 5 Post Crash Response Working Group with suggestions on what this work should involve.

But much more should be happening. We should not be half way through the Decade of Action before WHO begins thinking about how to deliver their justice commitments.

Crashes are not just predictable and preventable, they are often criminal. Failure to deal respond appropriately compounds the suffering of victims and allows the perpetuation of inequity on our roads.

Hence the need for a proper response by the justice system. And this is not just with helping reduce road deaths and serious injuries, as prioritised by Vision Zero and Safer System approaches. Intimidation from motor vehicles must also be tackled if more people are to walk and cycle, as needed and encouraged in every country in the world.

Peace not War on the Roads

Also on this day, but 14 years ago, the BMJ published War on the Roads. It noted how war was often waged on the weak by the powerful, and with road crashes, many of the victims were pedestrians and cyclists. Most would never own a car.

Since then, road traffic injury has been recognised as a public health epidemic with WHO coordinating the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. But it has failed to even count the number of deaths caused by criminal conduct–perhaps a holdover of the “unavoidable accident” mentality?

Victims and vulnerable road users deserve better. They deserve justice.

 

 

Legacy and lessons from Hillsborough

As a victims’ charity founded by the bereaved, RoadPeace is more familiar with loss and struggle than celebration. But the Hillsborough inquest verdict last week gave us reason to hope as it was a reminder that justice is possible, even if it does require over a quarter of a century of struggle.

And there was much that our members could empathise with. More families bereaved by a road death end up at the coroners’ court than the criminal court. Coroners continue to play a decisive role in all road deaths as they decide when the body of the deceased can be released and this varies too widely due to second post mortems.

Pauline Fielding, RoadPeace North West Local Group co-ordinator,said

“As a fellow Liverpudlian and a mother still looking for truth and justice following my son’s death in a road crash 22 years ago, I am encouraged by the achievements of the Hillsborough families. Let’s hope that their campaign will be seen by history as a turning point in victims’ struggles for truth and justice and also a warning to “professionals” to always be honest, open and to do their jobs thoroughly. The verdict shows we should never give up on the search for truth and justice. ”

Not just numbers but loved ones 

We welcomed the press seeing the victims not just as numbers but remembered as family members.

Those who died ranged in age from 10 to 67; 37 were teenagers. Three pairs of brothers, one pair of sisters and one father and son, Thomas Howard Sr and Jr, died together. Twenty-six of those who died were parents; 58 children lost a parent. Many of them have, as adults, attended the inquests almost every day during its two-year duration. It is by far the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history.  

Government gratitude for the families’ campaign

As acknowledged by the Home Secretary

“For 27 years the families and survivors of Hillsborough have fought for justice. They have faced hostility, opposition and obfuscation, and the authorities that should have been trusted, have laid blame and tried to protect themselves instead of acting in the public interest. But the families have never faltered in their pursuit of the truth.

Thanks to their actions, they have brought about a proper reinvestigation, and a thorough re-evaluation of what happened at Hillsborough.

That they have done so is extraordinary. I am sure the whole house will want to join me in paying tribute to their courage, determination and resolve. And we should also remember those who have sadly passed away while still waiting for justice.

No one should have to endure what the families and survivors have been through. No one should have to suffer the loss of their loved ones through such appalling circumstances, and no one should have to fight year after year, decade after decade, in the search of the truth.

I hope that for the families and survivors who have been through such difficult times, yesterday’s determinations will bring them closer towards the peace they have been so long denied.”

Impact on families and campaign legacy

Julie Fallon, sister of Andrew Sefton, who was killed at Hillsborough, wrote about the impact on the families. She poignantly noted that “We no longer have any idea of the people we might have been without the influence of this disaster”.

She also wrote about the legacy of their campaign, stating

the truly astonishing fact that we as a support group – a mixed bag of bereaved, devastated family members, thrown together 27 years ago – are still standing here at all. We were not meant to be and if others had their way, we wouldn’t be. This is also our greatest achievement…

So, how on earth are we still standing here, then? We are still standing here because we are decent, ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances of someone else’s making. In order not to be cowed whatever the cost, we have had to find within ourselves skills and attributes we never knew we possessed. We are an example of the very best this nation has to offer; dignified, resilient, honourable, compassionate, fair-minded and driven by a determination to have the truth exposed.

And there lies our real legacy, our real headline in history: “Hillsborough – the real truth”. We have paved the way for other ordinary, decent people in this country, who also find themselves in extraordinary circumstances of someone else’s making, to tread the path to truth and justice. We have swept the road before you, heaved boulders, checked for mines, swallowed dust, buried our dead at the roadside and, at times, crawled on our hands and knees, so that the path is now a little easier for you to walk on.

That is the significance of us still standing here after 27 years, and it is what the Hillsborough families should be ultimately remembered for, that we, at a very dear cost to ourselves, have given a measure of power and hope for what is possible, back to the ordinary person.

Lessons for RoadPeace

And whilst we take hope, power remains elusive. Hillsborough has also been a painful reminder that road crash victims regularly “walk alone”. There are no family forums or independent panels provided for them by the justice system. The call for a public advocate to represent the bereaved is limited to cases of mass disasters and will do nothing to help the vast majority of bereaved families who end up in the coroner’s court.  And this includes the majority of families bereaved by crashes.

The Home Secretary was just one of many to praise the determination and the resolve of the Hillsborough families. Their solidarity was credited with being a key reason that justice was achieved.

Similar solidarity is needed amongst road crash victims. And the need is great. The Hillsborough disaster represented a week’s road death toll in 1989, with 5373 killed on Britain’s roads that year. Since Hillsborough, over 85,000 sons and daughters have been killed in crashes in Britain.

As Lord Blunkett noted when debating the Public Advocate bill in the House of Lords,

“At the very moment when people are hurt the most—in one sense disabled the most from being able to be advocates on their own behalf and for those loved ones they have lost—we need to assist them to be able to articulate that hurt and to seek redress. More importantly than redress itself is to be able to investigate and put right those aspects which can be identified as having gone very badly wrong so that others do not have to suffer in that way. Therefore an advocate is needed most at the moment of greatest hurt.”

For over 24 years, RoadPeace has been an advocate for road crash victims. And just as the Hillsborough families’ campaign for justice is not over, neither is RoadPeace’s.

 

Justice and juries

Too frequently, RoadPeace has seen juries allow law-breaking drivers to walk free despite overwhelming evidence.  Their willingness to over-identify with those behind the wheel undermines the rule of law and its enforcement and causes further devastation to bereaved and injured victims. We are therefore very grateful to Martin Porter for drawing attention to this important problem in his recent article in the Guardian.

Martin has proposed removing the right to jury trial for those charged with either-way driving offences (those that can be prosecuted at either the Magistrates Court or Crown Court), starting with dangerous driving that has not caused death or injury.  He has stated that any reform should take account of the views of victims and their representatives. Here we try to clarify our position, based on over two decades supporting and representing road crash victims.

 

For dangerous driving that has not caused death or serious injury

RoadPeace would fully support all such cases starting at the Magistrates Court.  But for the worst cases — for multiple repeat offenders or where the disregard for the safety of others was egregious or extended, the appropriate sentences are beyond their powers. These cases should still be transferred to the Crown Court for sentencing.

 

Should we go further?

RoadPeace has fought for the right to trial at the Crown Court. We campaigned for over 15 years to get death mentioned in the criminal charges and for these cases to be indictable only, i.e. only able to be tried at the Crown Court.  Bereaved families do not want the death of their loved one to be a matter for Magistrates.  They feel insulted when the death of their loved one is treated in the court which also hears shoplifting and other petty crimes. They do not even want the sentencing of drivers to be held at the Magistrates Court, as seen in the cases involving the killings of Karl Austin and Kevin Lane.

We continue to hold this position.

 

For other dangerous driving offences

We had previously included serious injury in our position and called for cases involving serious injury to also be heard in the Crown Court.

But, first and foremost, victims want to see guilty drivers face the proper legal consequences of their actions. They do not want guilty drivers to walk away. This not only undermines justice and traffic law enforcement and discourages the CPS from charging on other cases but causes complete devastation to victims, particularly the bereaved.

From a victim’s perspective, removal of the right to a jury trial is not ideal but perhaps, on balance, a necessary compromise.

It may also be unavoidable for other reasons. Times have changed and budgets are tight. Under Austerity measures, there is much pressure to reduce court costs, including jury trials.  Removing the right to trial by jury was proposed for a wide range of offences by Lord Leveson in his Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings, published in January 2015. This was not restricted to driving offences, and understandably so, as driving offences account for a small percentage of the cases heard at the Crown Court.

For those that argue there is a fundamental right to a jury trial, we remind them that the vast majority of criminal cases are already heard at the Magistrates Court, and thus without a jury. This reform will only be shifting the line slightly.

 

 

Cycling too dangerous? Our justice system shares the blame

So 70% of parents think cycling in London is too dangerous. With this week’s acquittal of Aslan Khayardi, you can see why. Apparently it is acceptable for a driver to

  • break the 30 mph speed limit by over 20mph on a road “shared” with vulnerable road users, while
  • overtaking a cyclist at less than half the recommended safe passing distance.

Who wants to cycle on roads with such drivers? Not the MPS Police Commissioner who thinks it is too dangerous to cycle in London. Not Sadiq Khan who has said he does not allow his daughters to cycle.

And our justice system is to blame for its tolerance of speeding and road danger. Martin Porter, the cycling silk, was forced to make a private prosecution, after the police refused to act even though they had video evidence from a cycle-mounted camera. The footage was analysed by an independent expert collision investigator. The expert’s conclusion, unchallenged in court, was that the driver was doing at least 51-57mph and the overtaking distance 60-80 cm.

Police guidelines recommend court prosecution for drivers going 20mph over a 30mph speed limit. For drivers breaking the 30 mph speed limit by less than 20mph, drivers can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice. But when a driver is going 20mph or more above the 30mph limit, this warrants a court prosecution.

Not just too fast but also too close

It was not just the speed in the vicinity of vulnerable road users that was dangerous—but that should have been enough, given the CPS charging standards for Dangerous Driving that refers to

  • speed, which is particularly inappropriate for the prevailing road or traffic conditions;
  • failing to have a proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists ….

DfT guidelines advocate 1.5 m safe overtaking distance for drivers in 30mph roads. Passing at around half this distance while approaching twice this speed could in no circumstances be considered a display of “proper and safe regard”.

 One driver a day is convicted of Dangerous Driving in London

Dangerous driving prosecutions are very rare, as we highlighted in our testimony to the London Police and Crime committee in their recent session on road crime in London.

The failure of the Police to take action not only meant that Martin was forced to take up a private prosecution but that this was used against the case in court. The driver’s defence counsel made out that the private prosecution represented a private vendetta and that the failure of the Police to bring a case was proof that there was no real case to answer. The jury concluded that the driver was guilty of neither dangerous driving, nor the lesser offence of careless driving, which was an option available to them.

This needs to change. Sadiq Khan’s manifesto, just launched, supports making the roads safer for cycling and walking. As his manifesto acknowledges, active travel is not just a transport issue but also an environmental and public health matter, and understandably so. What isn’t understandable is the lack of appreciation that it is also a justice issue. Greater traffic law enforcement and justice is needed, if cycling is really to become the norm.

RoadPeace called for this in our submission to his consultation on his manifesto and also in our own London Mayoral Manifesto.

We will continue to call for it, as we do not believe our cycling revolution will happen until we have justice on our roads.

 

Remembering road deaths and crime

Today on the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, we remember those killed in crashes. These are violent, unnatural and unnecessary deaths and we empathise with the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Just as no one expects nor deserves to die whilst travelling to work or school, nor should people be killed at a restaurant or at a concert.

And whilst deaths caused by terrorism are rare for most of the world, we cannot say the same about road deaths. Over 1.25 million are killed each year. Crashes are the leading cause of death for 15-29 year olds in the world.

Nor can we forget the victims from previous years. Since RoadPeace held the first Day of Remembrance for road traffic victims in 1993, over 22 million people have died in crashes. A road death is a life sentence for the families as traumatic bereavement has lasting consequences. Our members talk about coping and adjustment, not recovery.

Since the UN launched its Decade of Action for Road Safety in May 2011, WHO has led the international efforts, and that has included improving the information base about the casualties.

We now know much about these unnatural and unnecessary deaths. We know that three out of every four are male. Women are the ones left behind—the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters—and often the ones demanding change.

We know where they were killed. Almost three quarters of them occur in middle income countries. We know in which region of the world they are concentrated. Africa has the highest road death rate.

We know their ages and how premature their deaths were. Older children and young adults, those aged between 15-44 years, account for almost half of all deaths. They are old enough to have children of their own but still have their own parents alive, thus devastating both young and older relatives.

We know how they were travelling when they were killed. Pedestrians were 22% of those killed globally, but accounted for 39% of the road deaths in Africa. Motorcyclists were 23% of the world’s road deaths but were over one in three of those killed in South East Asia. Motor vehicle occupants accounted for the largest number of those killed.

But what we don’t know is how many involved road traffic crime. We do not know how many were innocent victims killed by the unlawful actions of others. This data is not collected by WHO or even by most countries, including here in England and Wales. We should know this but we don’t. whilst WHO has invested much effort in reviewing basic road traffic laws, including speeding and drink-driving, this has yet to include the criminal charges that apply after a death or injury has been caused by driving.

The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety is almost half way through. WHO’s Global Road Safety Status Report 2015 concluded that road deaths have stopped increasing, but they have not yet begun to decrease. The new UN Sustainable Development Goals has included the target of halving global road deaths and injuries by 2020, but this will require a step change in commitment from government in prevention efforts.

This week, the international community gathers in Brasilia to take stock of the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead. RoadPeace will be there arguing the case for justice to be an integral part of road traffic injury prevention.

The first half of the Decade included raising awareness that crashes were not accidents  (and this campaign is not just continuing but growing, thanks to Transportation Alternatives in New York City).

But now we must also remember that not only are crashes not accidents, but too often they are also crimes.

Government moves towards ending the discrimination against road crash victims

Ending the discrimination against road crash victims has been a longstanding call for RoadPeace. And for good reason. Victims of road traffic crime are not treated as victims of crime. They go unsupported and even uncounted. Until this happens, we cannot imagine proper resources and priority being allocated to collision investigation and criminal prosecution of offending drivers. Justice and safety requires fair treatment of victims.

Change is coming.

Our justice system is taking two steps forward. One big and one not as big as it should have been. The MOJ has launched a consultation on the Code of Practice for Victims (Victims’ Code)  which would (finally) recognise victims of summary motoring offences as victims of crime. This is a really big step.

The second and smaller step involves the victims’ right to review when the police decide “No Further Action” (NFA). As many readers will know from the twin tragedy of Michael Mason’s death and the lack of prosecution of the driver involved, this is a key issue. Since April, victims of National Crime Recorded Standard (NCRS) offences  have the right to ask for a review of the charging decision if the police decide NFA or to drop all charges. . This change came in quietly with neither the Home Office nor The National Police Chief Council  (ACPO’s replacement) issuing a press release about it. Labour had proposed both these steps in their Victims’ Task Force report published two months earlier. Thanks again to our members for responding to Labour’s consultation on this—it made a difference.

But the right to review police charging decisions applies only to NCRS offences. So this will help bereaved families and those alleging dangerous driving but it does not apply to those injured in all other cases, including where careless driving or drink driving were suspected.

So some progress but not as much as there should have been if the NCRS, like the definition of victim, was to be extended to include summary motoring offences, at least those involving injury.

What difference will including victims of summary motoring offences make?

Victims of crime qualify for entitlements under the MOJ’s Victims’ Code. They have to be kept informed of the investigation. Track my Crime should be extended to Track my Crash, as was requested by RoadPeace when it was launched in Avon and Somerset in 2011. It has now been extended nationwide but still does not apply to road crashes.

Victims of crime are notified of the outcome of the investigation. This will require the police to monitor the outcomes of collision investigations, another long standing call of RoadPeace.

It’s 2015. Shouldn’t we be able to know how many pedestrians were killed by dangerous drivers? Or children injured by drink drivers? Or motorcyclists killed by unlicensed drivers. This information is not known because the data is not being collated.

And victims should be offered support, or at least information on support services. For the first time, Police and Crime Commissioners will be required to provide support to road crash victims. Given that DfT has been allocating tens of millions of pounds from motoring fines for the past few years, lack of funding should not be an issue.

Long time coming

The government has rejected previous requests by RoadPeace and others to treat victims of summary motoring offences as victims of crime. RoadPeace campaigned on this issue in 2005 when the first Victims’ Code was drafted.

And when the MOJ last consulted on the Victims’ Code two years ago, British Cycling, CTC, and LCC supported RoadPeace’s response to the MOJ which called for parity for victims of road traffic crime. But we didn’t convince the MOJ. The revised Code, launched at the end of 2013, maintained the narrow and mean-spirited definition of victim.

But we kept trying. Ending the discrimination against road crash victims was our sole demand in our 2015 parliamentary manifesto.

Thanks to our members who contacted their MPs to ask for their support in ensuring justice for road crash victims.

End Discrimination PC

Why now?

In addition to efforts by our members, we have the EU to thank for this progress. The EU Victims’ Directive http://ec.europa.eu/justice/criminal/victims/index_en.htm comes into implementation on 16 November 2015, which, appropriately, is the same day as this year’s commemoration of the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims http://worlddayofremembrance.org/ .

In the consultation on the Victims’ Code, the Ministry of Justice is proposing to adopt the EU Victims’ Directive’s definition of a victim:

  • A person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence;
  • A close relative of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence.

They had previously told RoadPeace that this would not happen, hence our parliamentary manifesto http://www.roadpeace.org/resources/RoadPeace_manifesto_2015_3.pdf.

What more is needed?

Whilst this is an important step towards ending discrimination, much more is needed. We need to ensure that

  • All crash victims presumed victims of crime until contrary is proven.
  • Victims of road traffic crime are counted and included in criminal justice statistics and strategies.
  • The government extends its definition of homicide definition to include culpable road deaths (as the CPS already does, but not the Home Office or MOJ).

And whilst we have focused here on the treatment of victims, we will cover other key areas in our justice campaign, including collision investigation and criminal prosecution, in future blogs.

How you can help

Please respond to the MOJ consultation on the Victims’ Code. Thank them for starting to close the gap in how road crash victims are treated, compared to other victims, including those of minor offences such as pickpocketing. And urge them to extend the right to review police charging decisions to at least those crashes involving serious injury.

The consultation deadline is 16 August 2015. It is a short consultation and you do not have to answer all questions. Contact RoadPeace if you would like more information or a copy of our response.

Dedication

This blog post is dedicated to three women. Jodie Webb, who would have been 36 today had her life, and that of her friend Joanne Greenwood, not been stolen by a dangerous drink driver on Jodie’s 21st birthday on 6 August 2000. Her mother June, who will never recover from the death of her daughter, was able to consider other people, existing and potential victims as well as offenders. She established the RoadPeace memorial garden in Beswick, Manchester where young offenders came to learn about the potential devastation of their actions and help tend the garden. For many years, June held a remembrance ceremony on this day. This blog is dedicated to Jodie Joanne and June. Our world needs more lives like June’s and an end to deaths like Jodie and Joanne’s.

Are victims really at the heart of the system?

If bereaved families were really at the heart of the coroner system, would they need to be told?

A new guide on coroner services has been launched by the Ministry of Justice, The press release claimed that the bereaved families were to be put at the heart of the coroner system. What a shame they did not have a hand in the writing of this guide. There was no consultation with either bereaved families or the campaign groups supporting the bereaved.

If RoadPeace had been consulted, we would have urged for much more information on how to make the inquest system less traumatic for the bereaved and more effective at preventing future deaths. Less traumatic means bereaved families being better informed. Callers to our helpline continue to talk about not being prepared for inquests. Coroners are supposed to now be pro-disclosure but this does not always happen nor is it being monitored. What should families do when coroners deny them access to witness statements?

Very little is in the guide about pre-inquest hearings. But these too are important in helping families be better informed and thus better prepared for the inquest.

And what about costs of transcripts. Families were to only be charged £5 for electronic recordings but not all coroners are recording inquests. Families are still being told it will cost them hundreds of pounds to read the transcript of the inquest.

And the guide could have said much more about the duty of coroners to prevent future deaths. This is only mentioned briefly at the end of the guide. It is still very unusual for a coroner to make a report to prevent other deaths. Our analysis of the past five years of London inquests shows only one in 25 resulted in a coroner taking action to prevent future deaths. It is unlikely coroners will do more unless families demand it.

Even the title of the guide highlights how bereaved families are not at the heart of the system. A Charter for Bereaved was originally proposed. This was then amended to be A Charter for Properly Interested Persons. Now there is no mention of the bereaved or a charter with coroners and their services back at centre stage.

This will not be the last guide for bereaved families but it was a missed opportunity. It also strengthens our call for feedback to be collated from families and level of satisfaction with coroners monitored. The next guide should be based on the experiences of bereaved families. Then we can start to talk about the bereaved being at the heart of the coroner system.