|The price of road travel - but who clears up the aftermath?|
More than 1,000 people were killed or seriously injured on the roads of Kent and Sussex in 2003. But what happens when lives are shattered by car accidents?
Inside Out investigates how the Police's new Serious Collision Unit cope with the aftermath of car crashes.
"We use the law of physics to deduce what happened."
Police Serious Collision Investigation Unit
The latest accident figures:
- 70 per cent of car drivers break the speed limit.
- About 2/3 of accidents in which people are killed or seriously injured happen on roads where the speed limit is 30mph or less.
- At 35mph you are twice as likely to kill someone as you are at 30mph.
- Each serious car crash costs society £1.5 million.
- Possible causes of road deaths are:
excessive or inappropriate speed
drink and drugs related driving
- failure to wear a seat belt
- lack of driver experience
- driver error
or road view obstruction
- Kent Police aim to reduce road deaths and serious injuries by 7 per cent in 2004-2005.
- There were 31,248 accidents on all roads in the South East in 2002 (DoT).
- There were 197,736 road accidents in Great Britain in 2002 (Dot).
State of emergency
We are a nation in love with our cars, but they give us freedom at a price.
There are about 40,000 serious road accidents in the UK every year. That's equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every month.
In 2002 3,431 people were killed on Britain's roads, and 35,976 were seriously injured.
The situation in the South East was also serious with many fatalities.
Between April and December 2003 the number of people killed or seriously injured on Kent roads was 825, of which 60 were children.
We often see the aftermath of accidents on the news, but what happens after the cameras leave the crash scene?
When an accident does happen, it's the emergency services and the Police that have the job of clearing up and dealing with all sorts of problems.
Kent's new Serious Collision Investigations Unit takes on every accident in the county that involves a serious injury or death.
This dedicated unit was set up in November 2004 to take over serious accidents from local police officers who juggling this job with their other policing duties.
|"We approach a crash scene like it is a murder scene."|
|Nick Silvester, Kent Serious Collision Unit
Based in Maidstone, a large part of the unit's work is devoted to to working out what happened using scientific principles and examining crash tests.
It can be a difficult job involving graphs, calculations and complex forensics.
The officers also have to speak to witnesses and carry out road measurements to get the full picture of what happened.
The accident scene
When there has been an accident the Serious Collision Unit arrives to examine all the evidence.
Measurements are made and they are logged into a computer. They are then taken back to base camp and used to piece together a picture of what happened at the scene of the accident.
Acting Sergeant Nick Silvester describes the rigorous approach taken by his unit, collecting and analysing evidence using physics to help deduce what happened.
"We approach a crash scene like it was a murder scene - we preserve evidence.
"It's like having a jigsaw without the box lid. It's like trying to put things together - you're forever gathering information and moving it around, and piecing it together."
The police officers also examine the wreckage of the vehicles involved, and try to work out what happened.
Inside Out visited the scene of one serious crash on the A259 near Romney Marsh where a car has collided with an articulated lorry.
The T-junction is the scene of a fatal crash which has shattered the lives of one Kent family.
|Picking up the pieces - the complex crash investigation|
The driver of the car was killed in the crash, and police have closed the road in both directions to divert any traffic away from the accident.
The Special Collision Investigation Unit step in to find out what happened.
PC Mark Lamb from the unit visits the site and tries to get a feel for the accident from the motorist's perspective.
In this case he decides that the best way to do this is to drive the route of the car involved in the fatal crash.
"It gives me a good perspective on what that driver may have been seeing on the actual day," he says.
The human cost
The police discover that the driver of the car was a woman from Dover with two children, who are unaware of what has happened to their mother.
The job of breaking the bad news to the relatives is done by the Family Liaison Officer, PC Craig Harris.
|The crash unit looks at every shred of evidence|
It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. It's a very important part of the post-accident clear-up, but the human impact can be devastating.
"I've just been to see the family," says PC Harris, "They took it rather badly."
"The family were devastated. You can't out this into words."
A post mortem proves that the driver of the car was not under the influence of drugs or drink, and the tracking measurements show that the car was travelling well within the speed limit.
It's still a mystery why the accident happened, but it may have been a case of driver error or obstruction of the driver's view.
The coroner's report later this year may provide more answers to the unresolved question about the tragic loss of life.