A speech to remember

Last November, MP Preet Kaur Gill spoke at RoadPeace West Midlands’ World Day of Remembrance service.

The event was an opportunity for families to remember loved ones who had been killed on the roads, and reflect upon the toll of road danger on society.

The sad fact is that since November, many more will have been killed in Great Britain.

As we enter 2020 with many new members of parliament, RoadPeace is calling on them to adopt the approach in Preet Kaur Gill’s speech (below) – one of compassion for crash victims, and a conviction to address the roads and the justice system.


“In 2018, 1,784 people were killed on our roads and around 28,000 seriously injured. That’s why days like the World Day of Remembrance for road crash victims are vital. The allow us to take stock, remember the impact on the individual and the families of victims of road traffic incidents and take decisive action to prevent and rectify the dangers that exist on our roads.


Since the day was first commemorated, more than 30 million people have died on the world’s roads. It is non-drivers who are most at risk; as a pedestrian, you are 19 times more likely to be killed on Britain’s roads than if you in a car.


Those figures are staggering and heart-breaking. Beneath them too, we must never forget that every person who is injured or killed on our roads was a human with a life, with a family, with a past. They are not just a statistic. We must also be careful to recognise the differences inherent in road traffic deaths where, due to their sudden nature, there is rarely time for friends and families to say goodbye.


Almost exactly a year ago, and only a few days after I was commemorating the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Remembrance for road crash victims, I stood up in parliament and read an extract from the poem that Lucy Harrison had written about her experiences losing a loved one in a road traffic crash. As I read I could see the impact it was having on my colleagues from all different political parties and I felt honoured to have so directly brought the voice of the bereaved to the seat of power.


Road Peace organises remembrance events and the work they do year round are vital to build a community and a stronger voice to call for change.


So what needs to happen?


We must stop pretending that we can deliver safe roads on the cheap. In 2010, there were immediate cuts to the Road Safety Revenue Grant and the Road Safety Capital Grant was abolished. Safety improvements have stalled and it is totally unacceptable to try and cut corners when people’s lives are at stake.


We need to look at sentencing. I was pleased the “Roads to Justice” led by bereaved families and the road safety charity Brake forced the government into action and to review sentencing in relation to dangerous driving. The fact that the consultation received more than 9000 responses reinforces the breadth of interest and feeling. However, despite promises, at each stage the government has hesitated to take action.


We must change the way we use language. If someone breaks the law and commits a crime on the road, we must call it what it is. The thing that I have been told by numerous victims and victims families is that using the word ‘accident’ trivialises what has happened. This is the same in regard to the term ‘careless’. Both terms clearly undermine the act. I am not saying there will not be genuinely unavoidable accidents, but all too often we conflate the two.


So we must stop calling collisions accidents and we must transform our legal framework and our justice system to send the message that road crime is a real crime. Only then will we all be able to treat it as such.


We need to listen to the emergency services. They undertake unbelievable work responding to crashes and collisions and this can put a clear, physical and emotional strain on them. All too often they are just expected to ‘do their job’ but we need to listen and learn from the people on the ground dealing with deaths and injuries on our roads day in and day out.


Finally, and most importantly, we need to listen to those who have been affected and have gone through the pain and heartache either as a victim, of a loved one of a victim. This brings me to my own work with Lucy Harrison and Elaine Gordon.


I have worked to support Lucy and Elaine as they have successfully campaigned to push Birmingham City Council to commit to a 12-month trial of CT post-mortem scanner for victims of road incidents.


The scanner will provide an alternative to the often unnecessary and invasive, second post-mortems being carried out on victims of road deaths. This is a key example of where it is important to listen to the bereaved. I have been told by numerous families that they have had to wait for a second post-mortem as part of the accused’s defence in court. This can add further grief for the families of the victim and lead to delays before they can bury their loved ones.


It has been a pleasure working with these two amazing, driven and hardworking women on this campaign. I am pleased that the council listened to the experiences and I know we will all be keeping a close eye on the impact of the trial.


I know that it is election season and pledges are everywhere but, I will end with my own to victims of road traffic crashes.


I know that for the families and friends of road traffic victims it is not just one day a year when you remember or think about what has happened, but the feeling of unity that exists at those remembrance event, the chance to share stories and plot a more positive future are vital. So, I will continue to listen to you. I will continue to hear and I will continue to push for justice.”