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   Inside Out - South East: Monday January 24, 2004


Car crash
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

Accident File

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
    - mobile phones
    - tiredness
    - mechanical defects
    - driver distraction
    - 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.

Collision course

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.

Crash victims

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.

Car wreck
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.

Crash unit police vehicle
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.

See also ...

Inside Out: South East

On the rest of Inside Out
Car seat safety
Speed cameras


On the rest of the web
Kent Police
National Statistics
Department for Transport
The UK Parliament
Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
Institute of Advanced Motorists

Driving Standards Agency
Think Road Safety

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

lisa cavell morgan
I'm doing a project on police and on this page I think there is lots of infomation and when I grow up I want to be a cop and cops if your reading this note ... ROCK ON COPS!

Ted Prangnell
At last I have found your website! I knew that the Beeb were looking for an incident where no one was to be charged for causing the crash, they must have found one. This is pretty rare. So often a crash is the fault of at least one driver who may not be insured (1 in 20 are not) and the situation for the affected families is very traumatic, and can have a devastaing outcome. I would like people to have been able to be aware that Road Peace offers advice and a counselling service for such people (Manned by volunteers.) I am pleased to see that there is much more information on this website, than came out on the programme itself. Not everybody is computer literate, or has access to a computer. As a fatal crash victim, this topic is close to my heart. Well done Kaddy again.

retained firefighter richard wenham 9311
caddy, i would like to start by congratulating you on the filming of the crash investigation team on this weeks inside out. i found this to be very informative and it gave myself and i'm sure i can speak for the rest of my colleagues at our station the insight of what happens after we leave the scene and for the weeks that past. as you have probably worked out it was our fire appliance (E23 Lydd) that was turned out to the tragic scene that afternoon along with an appliance from E20 New Romney. On arrival we turn on the autopilot and deal with the job in hand and then return to the station when all that we can do is done. as a retained station we all have other jobs that we have probably just responded from and will return to after. this does not stop us from thinking about what caused the incident we have just attended and how the rest of the casualties are doing. your programme was a joy to watch and has given me some very good info on how the crash investigation team work and i was shocked to learn how much it cost the tax payer. Once again well done and keep up the good work.

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