Every single day ten people die and one hundred people are injured on the roads in the UK, according to Mary Williams, ex-journalist and founder of charity Brake. It would be almost impossible to find a person who has never read about, witnessed, or been acquainted with someone who has been killed in a road traffic accident.
Transport statistics reveal that there were 3,421 fatal road accidents in 1998, slightly lower than the 1997 number of 3,599. For friends and relatives of these victims however, these statistics often pale into insignificance. Williams is one of those people – she lost her mother, Sue, in a car accident in May 1992.
Sue Williams was killed when a 38-tonne tanker filled with dry cement went out of control and fell over, crushing her car with her inside it. The tanker was later found to have defective steering and only one of its eight wheels had properly working brakes. The driver was convicted of reckless driving.
This prompted Williams to drive out of the world of transport journalism and into a life of raising awareness and educating people on how to be safer on the roads. She launched Brake in February 1995.
She explained: “There certainly was a need for a national organisation working to stop those deaths, and working to care for the people affected by them.”
Almost two years later, in January 1997, she suffered another personal tragedy. Her fiancé, Richard Dames-Longworth, died six days after a road crash. He suffered massive internal injuries after a man test-driving a Peugeot 306 overtook another car at a blind spot, heading straight into Dames-Longworth – the two vehicles collided head-on. Dames-Longworth's car went up in flames and he was trapped inside. The driver of the other car was jailed for five months.
Brake's primary aim is to reduce the number of deaths on the roads. It works to promote safe use of roads by everybody, from car and truck drivers through to cyclists and pedestrians.
The main avenue through which Brake operates is education. It believes that educating people about the dangers will encourage them to drive more safely, thus reducing the number of deaths on the road.
Business organisations are invited to become involved by joining the Road Risk Forum. The forum works to develop road safety initiatives through literature, seminars, newsletters and other outlets. Membership costs £75 a year, with which you receive information including Target Zero. Williams explains: “Target Zero is an information listing like a newspaper, but it pubishes very, very short stories. It is a networking opportunity. We produce stories about road safety initiatives and then encourage the people who were written about to contact each other, so we can develop best practice.”
She encourages insurers to either purchase forum membership for their fleet clients or to promote the forum to them. Williams says: “It is a very effective way for fleets to identify those risks and reduce their risks, potential affecting their claims and for themselves potentially reducing their premiums.”
Members of the forum, about 1,000 at present, receive self audits, which they can fill out to identify weaknesses within their practice. It is a very effective form of risk management.
Meanwhile, Brake does not neglect the friends or families of road accident victims in its work. In fact, it strives to achieve the best possible care for the families of road accident victims. “Brakecare” exists to provide help to reduce peoples' suffering after the death or serious injury of a family member or friend on the road.
Williams said: “We do that at the moment primarily through very detailed guides, which we ensure are distributed to the relevant bereaved or injured people and their families.”
Brake also produces a pack that is issued by the police to everybody who is bereaved as a result of an accident on the roads. It includes sensitive information from what happens in an inquest to what to do if you want to donate parts of the deceased's body.
Williams would like to make this a much more personal service by creating a person-to-person network of carers. She says: “It would entail a trained volunteer, trained by a trauma therapist, going to visit a person who had been bereaved very soon after their loss to offer them verbal support rather than simply giving them a guide and telling them to get on with it.” At present no service like this exists, but with more support Brake could take steps towards making it a reality.
Currently Brake is funded by a combination of companies, which include insurance company Royal & Sun Alliance and broker Aon. It also receives grants from the Government – the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Department of Health and the Home Office. Corporate sponsors donate £5,000 per year and some also sponsor events that Brake hold.
Williams believes that Brake could achieve much more if more money was ploughed in. She says: “We are a very poorly funded organisation at the moment. If we had lots more money we would have TV and billboard campaigns, promoting road safety and we would be actively going into companies and training them in how to ensure their drivers are safe on the road.”
Brake holds an annual road safety week to raise awareness of both the charity and the issue of road safety as a whole. The launch of last year's event took place on Westminster Bridge in a high impact campaign. It involved 70 people representing the number of accident victims of the previous week.
The next road safety week will take place between March 31 and April 6, 2001, with the theme of “Not Speeding”. A whole range of events, including city centre roadshows, will be happening. Williams explained: “Action packs that we produce are sent out to interested people who can run road safety events. Those events range from road safety displays through to driver training and schemes that teach children to do road safety.”
Williams was awarded an OBE earlier this year for her work for Brake. She described feeling “terrific” and was delighted to see her work for Brake being recognised in this way.
Brake's success is impossible to measure, according to Williams. She said: “The ultimate success is to see that no-one is dying on the roads and that everybody who is affected by a road crash is well cared for. If we save one life then it makes it worthwhile.”