Diary of a deadly week on the roads

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The Independent Online
Each month, Britain's roads claim 13 times the number of people killed by Aids. At this time of year, when the nation is alerted to the dangers of drink and driving, Jeremy Riggall and Randeep Ramesh examine the evidence of one damaging week on the roads.

It was a clear, quiet night in the Wiltshire countryside when a lone car shot through a roundabout and into a dry stone wall. The crash claimed the life of an 18-year-old waiter who had just finished a long shift at a busy restaurant.

Regulars knew the dead teenager, Philip, as a friendly, diligent waiter who had set his sights on becoming restaurant manager. But, on 7 December, it appears that on the four-mile journey home, Philip's eyes wandered from the road and the car careered into a stone wall, flinging Philip through the windscreen.

A survey of 51 police forces conducted by The Independent reveals that there were 60 fatalities on Britain's roads in the first week of December. Motoring organisations say that the determining factor in most accidents is "driver error".

No death in the survey could be easily categorised, and some appear avoidable. On the A1123 in Cambridgeshire, 25-year-old Laurie Williams died in hospital three days after crashing her Ford Orion into a stationary Land Rover, whose owner was helping to move another car from a ditch. On the outskirts of York, pensioner Kenneth Lyons drove out of a car park on to the wrong side of the road and crashed into an oncoming lorry.

Nearly 3,600 lives were claimed last year. By comparison, five Aids sufferers die each week and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease kills three a month. Governments have reduced the toll. Since the peak of 8,000 deaths in 1966, there has been a steady decline in deaths, despite the fact that the number of licensed vehicles has increased by 89 per cent, and the volume of motor traffic has more than doubled.

Drink driving is the cause of 20 per cent of road fatalities, and "inappropriate" speeding is a major factor in a third of all casualties.

Motoring organisations also point out that many roads are "death traps". The RAC says that "Britain's most dangerous road" is a section of the A614 in Nottinghamshire which has claimed 10 lives since 1995.

Campaigners say that much more could be done to deter reckless driving. In 1996, there were 3,598 deaths on the road but only 346 drivers were charged with death by "dangerous driving". Most are charged with careless driving.

In Nottingham last year, a child was killed by a car travelling at more than 45mph through a zebra crossing. A 24-year-old woman was convicted of careless driving, receiving a fine of pounds 500 and no driving ban.

Mary Williams, chief executive of Brake, the road safety organisation, said: "The charge of careless driving should be dropped ... We need a simplified charging system with dangerous driving, death by dangerous driving and manslaughter".

The police are equally dissatisfied with the judicial system's handling of road fatalities. A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said: "We always hear about a government cracking down on drugs or crime. There are six hundred murders a year, but over 3,500 road deaths."

National Charity for Road Crash Victims: 0181-964 1021.

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