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  Inside Out East: Monday February 2, 2004

CRASH DETECTIVES

Sgt Nigel Jennings
Sgt Nigel Jennings deals with accidents

We all complain about the huge traffic jams following a road accident. But if you think it’s tough for you, meet the crash detectives - those who literally pick up the pieces.

Last year there were more than 7,000 accidents reported in Cambridgeshire alone, resulting in 67 deaths. This is a stark reminder of how lethal driving can be.

Inspector Gary Etherington from Cambridgeshire police is often first on the scene. He says, "We treat every scene as a potential murder scene and until we can establish it as otherwise we will treat it in that way."

"The worst time for me has been when young people and children are involved."
Sergeant Nigel Jennings

One of the main tasks of the team is to carefully and methodically examine all the evidence at the scene.

Inspector Gary Etherington says, "We only get one shot at the scene and we must record all the evidence that we can at that time."

As well as examine evidence at the scene, officers also interview witnesses, examine wreckages afterwards and study any tachograph found in the vehicle.

Time consuming

Inspector Gary Etherington acknowledges that the resulting traffic jams can be annoying for other drivers. "It does take a long while. Roads are closed for a considerable time," he says.

"We do recognise that this has an economic cost to the country, but we must establish whether we do, in fact, have just a collision where somebody has unfortunately lost their life, or whether we have a murder scene."

Jimmy Saville
Jimmy Saville 'clunk clicks' for an ad campaign

Seat belt ignorance

Despite the many vehicle safety features available today, including airbags, side impact bars and seatbelt restraints, it astounds the team that some people fail to wear the most basic car safety device - the seatbelt.

Regulations on the wearing of seatbelts by drivers and front seat passengers come into force in 1983.

Sir Jimmy Saville appeared in advertisements aimed at encouraging seatbelt use and made the phrase, "clunk click with every trip," famous.

"The facts are there," says Police Constable Clive Hulgate. "They are proven - they do save lives, but people just don’t wear them."

Personal role

FACTS & FIGURES

One in 10 drivers and front seat passengers, do not wear seatbelts

Four in 10 rear seat adults do not wear seatbelts

Speeding is the biggest single contributory factor of road accidents

Falling asleep at the wheel is the cause of around 20% of accidents on long journeys on trunk roads and motorways

Road accidents claimed 3,431 lives in 2002
Source: Department for Transport

There crash team’s role is not just examining wrecks and tachograph.

As Sergeant Nigel Jennings explains, there is a much more personal side, "It’s giving people who are left behind the answers to the questions they are asking, ‘how did the collision happen?’

"If we can do that we have done our job."

It can also be emotionally challenging for the officers involved. Sergeant Nigel Jennings says, "The worst time for me has been when young people and children are involved.

"I’m a father, it affects you, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve been home, having got off duty late because of a collision, and given the children an extra cuddle. It’s the only thing to do."

See also ...

Inside Out: East
More great stories

On bbc.co.uk
BBC: Road safety survey

On the rest of the web
Think! Road Safety
Highway Code
Cambridgeshire Constabulary

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