PACTS has responded to the UK Department for Transport’s consultation of November 2021 on establishing a Road Collision Investigation Branch.
Road collisions lead to significantly more deaths in Great Britain than those caused by other modes of transport, yet there is currently no independent body to investigate road collisions and their causes. The UK has Rail, Air, Maritime and other Accident Investigation Branches. PACTS has long argued that such a body is needed for road collisions, and should be established as soon as possible. We highlighted this in our conference of 2017 and, in partnership with other organisations, pursued it with the DfT. PACTS is delighted that the Government has changed its position.
We fully recognise the excellent work of police serious collision and forensic investigators, professionals in bodies such as the Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators, safety research centres in universities and the private sector, investigations commissioned by insurance companies, Thatcham Research, TRL and many others. PACTS supports an RCIB because we expect it to draw together the findings from these other institutions and identify and fill gaps. It will have an authoritative and independent voice and a remit to report publicly, which these other bodies do not. An RCIB should liaise with the Chief Coroner to advise on the need for Prevention of Future Death reports and how the work of RAIB and coroners can be most usefully integrated. Like any new institution, an RCIB will take time to establish and to recruit staff, clarify its remit and operational arrangements, and other such things. We would not expect it to undertake much investigation in the first year or two.
A first priority might be establishing arrangements for access to data and sharing. We have not attempted to calculate the economic value or rate of return from an RCIB. Because as this is dependent on so many factors, it is very difficult to calculate. However, we are confident that the RAC Foundation’s RCIP report will demonstrate that an RCIB would be excellent value for money. Additionally, TRL has shown us its calculation in its consultation response, and we are happy to endorse it. At an elementary level, given that the official value of prevention of a single fatal collision is approaching £2m, it seems inconceivable that an RCIB with an annual budget of approximately £5m would not generate a substantial rate a return within a few years. An RCIB must not be at the expense of existing investigation or research effort, including police, RAIDS or road safety research grants. The establishment of an RCIB is an opportunity for the UK to show global leadership, contribute to the second UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and support LMICs that have very high levels of road casualties but far less resource for detailed investigation. It would also assist the substantial commercial road safety sector to remain world-leading, for example, members of ITS(UK) Enforcement Group. We have emphasised the need for an RCIB to undertake an investigation, as its name indicates, and not be a research body. It is worth noting that in rail, accident investigation is being conducted by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch while research is undertaken by the Rail Safety Standards Board, Health & Safety by the ORR and criminal investigation by the British Transport Police. Since these bodies and roles were established, the safety record of UK railways has been generally excellent. An RCIB should liaise with the Chief Coroner over priorities for Prevention of Future Death Reports and ways in which the outputs from the RCIB and corners can be combined to best effect.
In 2018, the Department for Transport (DfT) funded the RAC Foundation to undertake the Road Collision Investigation Project (RCIP); PACTS is a steering group member. RCIP seeks to establish whether there is a business case for an independent Road Collision Investigation Branch (RCIB). While the final project report is expected to be published by summer 2022, the substantial volume of RCIP work to date firmly supports establishing an RCIB.