Ministers have announced the creation of the country’s first ever Road Safety Investigation Branch (RSIB), following a four-year project to investigate the concept and ‘overwhelming support’ for the move.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it will recruit a specialised team of inspectors to join the RSIB, which will look at how and why crashes happen and provide real insight into how new technologies can be rolled out on UK roads.
It pointed out that while road collisions lead to significantly more deaths in Great Britain than those caused by other modes of transport, there is currently no independent body to investigate road incidents and their causes. It said creating the new body will bring road safety into line with similar independent bodies that already exist for air, maritime and rail accidents.
However, unlike those organisations, such as the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, the word ‘accident’ does not appear in the new body’s title. This perhaps reflects more modern language as well as a wider focus.
The DfT said the RSIB will investigate themes in the causes of collisions, as well as specific incidents of concern, to learn valuable road safety lessons.
‘It will make independent safety recommendations to organisations, such as government and police forces, to better shape the future of road safety policy and provide better, greener and safer journeys for people right across the country,’ officials said.
The specialised unit 'will also provide vital insight into safety trends related to new and evolving technologies', which could include self-driving vehicles, e-scooters and electric vehicles, to ensure the country maintains some of the highest road safety standards in the world and new technology is deployed safely.
Roads minister Baroness Vere said: ‘We’re establishing the Road Safety Investigation Branch, so we can boost safety for road users even further and also bring safety measures in line with other modes of transport and the future of travel.’
The DfT said the decision to establish the RSIB followed a public consultation that showed overwhelming support for the creation of such a body, as well as for its powers and responsibilities. Officials said the department expects to include measures to enable the creation of the branch in the forthcoming Transport Bill.
The move also reflects the fallout from a decade where the number of people killed on British roads has plateaued after many previous years of reduced fatalities. Casualty figures fell during the first two years of the current decade, although it is unclear how much this reflects lower levels of traffic during the pandemic.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, which has run the Road Collision Investigation Project over the past four years with funding from the Government and National Highways, said: ‘Working with three police forces and many other experts, we have demonstrated the strong case for a fresh way of investigating death and injury on the road network, which is why we are delighted with this announcement.
'After a steady decline in roads deaths up to 2012, for the past decade the number of annual fatalities has sat stubbornly around the 1,750 mark. Whilst the Covid-related cut in traffic meant fewer people killed, post-pandemic we are likely to see the death toll rise again.
'To get back on a downward course we need to do something radically different which is exactly what this new approach is about. The rail, aviation and marine investigation branches are internationally renowned. If the roads version has anything like their success then we will all benefit from having markedly safer roads.'
The DfT noted that data and evidence is collated using in-depth study programmes, the Collision Reporting and Sharing System (CRASH), Forensic Collision Investigation reports and Prevention of Future Death reports.
It said it expects the RSIB to use this data alongside that from insurance companies, vehicle manufacturers, the emergency services and the NHS to deepen the body of evidence on incident causes and improve road safety interventions across the country.
As with similar bodies, the RSIB will not identify blame or liability and does not replace police investigation. ‘It will instead draw on all the available evidence to make recommendations to improve road safety and mitigate or prevent similar incidents in the future.’
The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety said it had long argued that such a body was needed for road collisions and was delighted that the Government had changed its position. It added that it would not expect it to undertake much investigation in the first year or two as like any new institution, it would take time to establish and to recruit staff and clarify its remit and operational arrangements.
Dr Suzy Charman, executive director of the Road Safety Foundation, said: 'This is such an important announcement for the UK. For us, analysis is a vital part of identifying, addressing and resolving shortcomings and failures in the system to avoid needless deaths and serious injuries on our roads, and we are pleased to have been involved in providing a small input in the pilot.'