DCSIMG

Stop the carnage on our roads

Yorkshire-based charity Brake has helped thousands of people cope with the consequences of road deaths and serious injury as a result of road accidents since it formed in 1995. In a rare interview, founder and chief executive Mary Williams OBE talked to Neil Hudson about what prompted her to form the groundbreaking charity, her achievements and ambitions

NINE people are killed on the UK's roads every day and another 82 are seriously injured – most of the incidents are preventable.

For Mary Williams, 39, it was the death in 1992 of her mother, Sue Williams, aged just 52, which brought home the lack of care available to victims' relatives. Sue Williams died when a 38-ton tanker ran down a hill in Baslow, Derbyshire, and overturned on her car, which was stationary.

The driver was given 200 hours community service and the owners of the vehicle, which had defective brakes, were fined 2,300 and allowed to continue in business.

It was to be a defining moment. Three years later, Mary formed Brake as a one-woman campaign, with the aim of improving victim support and bringing about a change in driving culture to prevent road deaths.

In 1997 she suffered another blow after partner Richard Longworth was killed by an overtaking lorry on a rural road in Hertfordshire.

Today, Huddersfield-based Brake is a nationally recognised charity working with the police, Home Office and lobbying Government for change. It employs 26 full-time staff and dozens of volunteer councillors, some of whom travel as far afield as Germany, missionaries carrying a road safety message.

Mary said: "My ambition is to change people's attitudes to road safety to prevent road deaths. I wish my organisation was 10 times bigger.

"I think we have achieved a lot in the last five or 10 years, there's been a real sea-change but I think the media has a big part to play in that."

Brake is also campaigning to bring about changes to the driving test, basically to make it tougher.

Tuition

The Government is due to publish proposals soon – Brake wants to see graduated tests, with new drivers given more tuition in all weather conditions, with a period during which restrictions would apply, such as limiting the number of passengers, or the time at which a vehicle could be driven, before a second test.

They also want to see regular re-testing for motorists throughout their driving life.

Mary said: "Our aim is to bring about a change in the way people think and bring in tougher regulations on drivers, which is why we are lobbying for change of the driving test, with greater controls on young drivers.

"I think the fact we are even talking about it demonstrates a shift in attitudes and that's a positive thing. The main thing is to stop road deaths."

She added: "I was in a position to set up Brake and because I worked as a campaigning journalist, I had the relevant skills. There are many people out there who do not know what to do after such a bereavement.

"We are always looking for high-flying professionals who want to work in the voluntary sector and have strong skills in research, campaigning and communications."

Brake is actively seeking volunteers to provide counselling to the families of road crash victims and to deliver presentations to schools, companies and even the British Army – road death is the highest killer among young Army personnel.

Tim Lofthouse, 42, from Leeds, is one such volunteer and has been for the last two years.

He said: "I go to see families after a road death to explain to them what will happen next, because no-one is ever prepared to bury a relative after something like that, especially if it involves a child.

"It's things like the fact that a victim's body actually belongs to the coroner and we explain that process, it's a matter of going in there and talking to them and building up their confidence.

"At the moment, there are no protocols for the bereaved being referred to us by the police. They do have family liaison officers but their first priority is the investigation."

Brake has reached a number of milestones in its short life, including establishing the widely recognised – and Government-backed – national road safety week (November 10-16, 2008).They helped bring about a ban on using handheld mobile phones at the wheel and are campaigning hard for a complete ban on any kind of mobile phone use whilst driving.

They also began a walking bus scheme in 2006 and last year set a record by getting 82,315 children to walk to school. This year, they hope to top 100,000.

Lorna Jackson, 24, who recently began working for Brake as communications manager, said: "Quite often we hear about parents driving their kids to school because they are scared about them walking, which is completely contradictory when you think about it. We are trying to change attitudes, so kids can use the roads safely.

Zones

"We would like to see 20mph zones brought in around all schools and built-up areas. Such schemes are already under way in Portsmouth and Scotland.

"We'd also like to see road safety on the national curriculum, so it's something kids are aware of a lot sooner, we'd like to see changes to the driving test and regular re-testing."

One area they are also actively campaigning is to bring in tougher sentencing guidelines – at the moment, there is no offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, so the courts are forced to try to make other charges, such as GBH, fit, with varying success.

The most recent case to hit the headlines, the sentencing of Matthew Mather, 24, of Doncaster, after he fell asleep at the wheel, killing three passengers, is the latest in a long list of 'preventable' incidents. Lorna added: "We want to see tougher sentences, partly as deterrent, partly as justice for the families.

"Our argument is road deaths are caused. They are not accidents if someone has chosen to get behind the wheel drunk or taken drugs, or without enough sleep. The point is people are responsible for their actions."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: "We aim to publish a consultation document this year on our plans to completely overhaul the training and testing of novice drivers. All suggestions will be looked at."

*Call Brake on 01484 559909; or log onto their website at: www.brake.org.uk

There are many people out there who do not know what to do after such a bereavement.

“We are always looking for high-flying professionals who want to work in the voluntary sector and have strong skills in research, campaigning and communications.”

Brake is actively seeking volunteers to provide counselling to the families of road crash victims and to deliver presentations to schools, companies and even the British Army – road death is the highest killer among young Army personnel.

Tim Lofthouse, 42, from Leeds, is one such volunteer and has been for the last two years.

He said: “I go to see families after a road death to explain to them what will happen next, because no-one is ever prepared to bury a relative after something like that, especially if it involves a child.

“It’s things like the fact that a victim’s body actually belongs to the coroner and we explain that process, it’s a matter of going in there and talking to them and building up their confidence.

“At the moment, there are no protocols for the bereaved being referred to us by the police. They do have family liaison officers but their first priority is the investigation.”

Brake has reached a number of milestones in its short life, including establishing the widely recognised – and Government-backed – national road safety week (November 10-16, 2008).

They helped bring about a ban on using handheld mobile phones at the wheel and are campaigning hard for a complete ban on any kind of mobile phone use whilst driving.

They also began a walking bus scheme in 2006 and last year set a record by getting 82,315 children to walk to school. This year, they hope to top 100,000.

Lorna Jackson, 24, who recently began working for Brake as communications manager, said: “Quite often we hear about parents driving their kids to school because they are scared about them walking, which is completely contradictory when you think about it. We are trying to change attitudes, so kids can use the roads safely.

Zones

“We would like to see 20mph zones brought in around all schools and built-up areas. Such schemes are already under way in Portsmouth and Scotland.

“We’d also like to see road safety on the national curriculum, so it’s something kids are aware of a lot sooner, we’d like to see changes to the driving test and regular re-testing.”

One area they are also actively campaigning is to bring in tougher sentencing guidelines – at the moment, there is no offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, so the courts are forced to try to make other charges, such as GBH, fit, with varying success.

The most recent case to hit the headlines, the sentencing of Matthew Mather, 24, of Doncaster, after he fell asleep at the wheel, killing three passengers, is the latest in a long list of ‘preventable’ incidents.

Lorna added: “We want to see tougher sentences, partly as deterrent, partly as justice for the families.

“Our argument is road deaths are caused. They are not accidents if someone has chosen to get behind the wheel drunk or taken drugs, or without enough sleep. The point is people are responsible for their actions.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: “We aim to publish a consultation document this year on our plans to completely overhaul the training and testing of novice drivers. All suggestions will be looked at.”

l Call Brake on 01484 559909; or log onto their website at: www.brake.org.uk

neil.hudson@ypn.co.uk

 
 
 

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