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Department for Transport launches consultation on setting up a Road Collision Investigation Branch

Proposed body would carry out thematic investigations on road traffic collisions

The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation into setting up a Road Collision Investigation Branch (RCIB), organised along similar lines to existing independent bodies for the aviation, maritime and rail sectors.

The proposed body would be “dedicated to learning lessons from road traffic collisions, including those involving self-driving vehicles,” says the DfT.

In particular, it would “carry out thematic investigations and probe specific incidents of concern to establish the causes of collisions and make independent safety recommendations to help further improve road safety across the country.”

During 2020, 1,460 people – 140 of those cyclists – were killed in road traffic collisions in Great Britain, and a further 22,069 sustained serious injury.

Besides the effect on victims as well as their families, friends and the wider community, road traffic collision are also estimated to cost the British economy £28.5 billion annually, including £1.5 billion in emergency costs to the National Health Service.

According to the consultation document, which you can find here, a  proposed RCIB would have three main responsibilities, namely:

to have a singular focus on analysing the causes of collisions
to look for patterns emerging from the data, across police and highway authority boundaries where this data is currently only examined locally and
to make independent safety recommendations for action.

Safety recommendations from an RCIB are anticipated to be used “to inform decisions made by relevant statutory oversight bodies as to whether enforcement action is required. It is proposed that an RCIB would not, however, apportion blame or liability, unless that was necessary to achieve its objective of improving safety.”

The DfT says that “Given the scale of collisions on the roads, we intend for an RCIB to focus primarily on thematic investigations drawing on evidence across multiple cases, rather than on individual incidents.”

It asks respondents to the consultation to rate, on a five-point scale, the investigation criteria that an RCIB should “give weight to when deciding what to base thematic investigations on,” as follows:

Scale – factors impacting a large number of fatal or serious collisions (as opposed to more minor collisions/near misses)
Risk of harm – collisions impacting those who might sustain the greatest risk of harm including children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians
Emerging risks – new technology or behaviour without an established evidence base
Other, please provide detail.

The DfT added that “The consultation is being launched now due to the huge developments which are taking place across the transport sector, such as the rollout of increasingly automated and electric vehicles.”

Of the three existing bodies, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) was set up in 1915, while the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) have been in operation since, respectively, 1989 and 2005.

Both of the younger bodies were established following public inquiries into major incidents that led to significant loss of life.

Those were the capsizing of the roll-on, roll-off ferry Herald of Free Enterprise  off Zeebrugge in March 1987, with the loss of 193 lives and, for the RAIB, the Ladbroke Grove train crash in October 1999 in which 31 people died.

Roads minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said: “The UK’s roads are among the safest in the world, but we’re always looking at ways to make them even safer.

“A new investigation branch would play a huge role in this work by identifying the underlying causes of road traffic collisions, so we can take action to prevent them from happening again.

“It would also provide us with vital insight as we continue to modernise our road network to ensure better, greener and safer journeys.”

Director of the RAC Foundation Steve Gooding added: “After excellent progress across many years, sustained road safety improvement has been hard to achieve over the past decade, both in the UK and further afield.

“We should be challenging ourselves on whether we are understanding all we can about the causes of road collisions and what could be done to prevent them – our research to date suggests that more could be learnt – which is why today’s consultation is so important and so welcome.”

The consultation runs until 9 December 2021.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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