May 18 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
In the space of just 48 hours the families of five people have had to face up to losing a loved one following crashes on the county’s roads.
Since the start of the year that figure has risen to 12 compared to just five in the same period last year.
A spokesman for Norfolk police said for the last year, between January 1 and December 31, there were 39 people killed, compared to 43 people in 2011 and 39 in 2010.
Each death is one too many, and the latest tragedies – the deaths of Billie-Jean Roberts, 48, and her daughter Annie Huizar, 19, from Little Fransham, near Dereham, on the A47 at Hockering on Saturday, the deaths of an elderly couple from Norwich on the A140 on Sunday and the death of Police Community Support Officer Sandi Greenacre on the A149 at Dersingham on Monday – beg the question as to what is responsible?
Is it something to do with our rural roads? Is it bad weather? Is it bad driving? Could it be a combination of all three factors?
Clearly the full details of the latest incidents are yet to emerge.
In the meantime we can only speculate about the possible causes of the crashes which have prompted a plea from police for motorists to drive to the conditions with the cold snap set to continue.
Inspector Chris Brooks, from Norfolk and Suffolk Road Policing, who revealed police had been called out to 25 reported collisions across the county between midnight on Sunday and 9.30am on Monday, said: “While we cannot make assumptions, the poor weather has seen a dramatic increase in serious collisions we and our emergency services colleagues have had to deal with. The icy and snowy conditions are expected to continue throughout the course of the week and we are imploring motorists to slow down and drive according to the conditions.”
But while the weather could be a factor, is the type of roads we are surrounded by in Norfolk – rural, single carriageway roads with blind bends, hidden dips, mud and animals on the road, equally culpable?
According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists, the risk of serious injury or death on single carriageways is twice that of dual carriageways and six times that of motorways.
Neil Greig, IAM director of policy and research, said: “Rural single carriageways are our most dangerous roads because they can penalise even the slightest driver error with death or serious injury.
“Whilst overall death figures have being going down, the margins between survival or lifelong injury can often literally be the width of a tree. Crashes on rural roads tend to involve head ons, hitting solid roadside objects or side impacts at junctions. “Even in a modern five-star rated car these are the least survivable crash types. Engineering improvements will help but in a county like Norfolk, with hundreds of miles of country roads, it is simply not feasible to improve every junction or protect every tree.”
He added: “Until rural 60mph roads are included in the test new drivers will spend their time on slower roads learning manoeuvres that will help them park but which ultimately don’t help to save their lives.”
Figures released by the Department for Transport show that in 2011 Norfolk had the third highest number of people killed and seriously injured (KSI) in the East of England.
There were 355 compared to 326 in Suffolk and 337 in Cambridgeshire with only Essex (630) and Hertfordshire (356) having more.
Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) figures also show more crashes on rural routes.
A ROSPA spokesman said: “In 2011, 1,901 people died on the roads of Great Britain. More than 60pc of these deaths occurred on rural roads. Over two thirds of motorcycle fatalities occurred in rural areas.
“Engineering the rural road environment may be one of the best ways to stop people being killed or injured. In rural areas, engineering that targets whole routes or wide areas may be the best strategy. This can create consistency along the length of commonly used routes.”
Measures like moving badly positioned signs and vegetation or installing forgiving roadsides can help on single carriageway roads.
The spokesman added: “The most effective schemes highlight the importance of augmenting road engineering with education and information campaigns.”
Kevin Allen, a project engineer for network safety at Norfolk County Council, said they routinely monitor accidents across the county and specifically look for groups of accidents, called “accident cluster sites”, and every quarter look at these sites to see if there is something about the highway that can be done to make them safer.
Mr Allen said there was nothing to point to the sites where the most recent fatalities occurred – on the A47, A140 and A149 – as being accident cluster sites.
But the motorist must also take a responsibility – whether driving on single or dual carriageway roads.
Iain Temperton, team manager of casualty reduction at Norfolk County Council, said: “The message we want to give to road users is that they must drive to the conditions, we can’t stress that enough.
“The emergency services have had a very busy weekend pulling people out of ditches and fields all over the county purely because they’re not driving to the conditions they’re faced with. We do have a gritting regime but we live in a rural county where not every road is treated and we have to expect to drive to whatever conditions we’re faced with.
“We’ve had all manner of weather conditions over the past few weeks, including mist and fog but drivers don’t slow down and adjust their speed to the visibility.”
Mr Temperton added: “The onus must be on the driver. That is our policy in everything we approach; it’s up to us to cross a road safely, or drive at a suitable speed for the conditions whatever they might be.”
That view was endorsed by Liz Voysey, from Norwich Road in Dereham, who has long campaigned for road safety after her 19-year-old daughter, Amy Upcraft, was killed by a speeding van driver on the A47 at North Tuddenham in 2004.
She said: “My heart goes out to the family of the people who have died. We don’t know, at this time, the circumstances which have caused their deaths. But we were driving from Norwich back to Dereham on Saturday. The weather was atrocious, yet there were people driving far too fast in those conditions.
“I remember being furious at some of the people who were overtaking us at such speed. If it’s icy, snowing or raining, then people need to drive according to the conditions.”
Ultimately it will not be until the police have completed their investigations and the inquests into the five deaths have been held that we might find out if all or any of these factors have contributed to these latest tragedies. But at least by highlighting the issues we can hope that we lessen the likelihood of any future tragedies happening on our counties roads.