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Drive to reduce deaths on the county's roads
Buy this photo » Chief Inspector Henry Parsons taking a look at the map of serious collisions in Oxfordshire for 2012 and 2013
BEHIND the roads policing team’s regular seatbelt checks and speeding tickets is the desire to save lives.
Chief Inspector Henry Parsons, head of the Thames Valley Police’s roads police team, says: “We are not in the business of making money.
“Our job is to stop people dying on the roads. It is that simple.”
Speaking from his office at the Bicester roads policing base Mr Parsons simplifies the unit’s work into three areas – prevention, response, and investigation.
And he says the unit’s main focus is the “Fatal Four” – speed, drink and drug-driving, distraction, and seatbelts.
He said: “Evidence shows these four things contribute most to people dying on the roads. This is the bread and butter of roads policing.”
The chief inspector also defended his unit’s enforcement work, saying operations like speed traps and stop checks are necessary to stop accidents on the county’s roads.
He said: “People don’t see the link between what can be seen as low level, petty enforcement and people dying.”
He said enforcements were targeted at accident blackspots and in areas where the most complaints came.
He also said all cash taken from fines went directly to central Government.
The roads police officer also said only drivers committing serious road crimes would be fined and prosecuted. Less severe offenders are given roadside guidance and the option of taking a speed awareness course.
He said: “When you have seen one bad crash, that never leaves you. Never mind being involved in one.
“Life is fragile and you never know what is around the corner.”
One of the unit’s prevention campaigns is the Safe Drive Stay Alive shows which highlight driving dangers to school children.
It also runs drink-driving awareness campaigns.
Mr Parsons said: “The reason we push education is to make people make the right choices.
“You need a reason to change your behaviour. That could be anything from seeing a gory advert on the TV to seeing a crash or being stopped.
“I would rather we were a deterrent then responding to crashes.”
Statistics show road deaths in the county are falling year on year.
There were 41 deaths on Oxfordshire roads in 2010 – in 2011 there were 26; last year there were 28 and up to June this year there have been nine.
Inspector Paul Winks, head of the road death investigation team, put the fall down to improvements in car safety, better road design, and the unit’s prevention work.
But he said people were still dying unnecessarily, adding: “Still we are seeing far too many deaths as a result of people not wearing a seatbelt.”
The investigation team look into cases were people have died and where someone may need to be prosecuted. And Insp Winks said about half of road deaths led to a prosecution.
He also said almost all road accidents were down to human error rather than vehicle defects.
DELIVERING BAD NEWS IS NEVER EASY
A ROADS policing officer’s day can involve anything from escorting Royalty to investigating a five car pile-up.
But Sgt Bryan Smith, a team supervisor at the Bicester roads policing base, said dealing with death was a part of the job.
He said: “We know it is our job so we know we are expected to deal with things and everyone has their own coping strategies.
“Most roads policing officers become quite impassioned about road safety as a result of what they see.”
The officer said it was frustrating to see drivers ignoring advice on seatbelts and mobile phones.
He said: “I don’t think you realise the impact of it until you are on this department and you constantly see people with issues that could have been avoided. It is frustrating that the message does not seem to be getting home despite the vast amount of prevention work we do.”
He said officers always found it hard delivering the bad news to the loved-ones of someone who had died in a road accident.
“If it has been from a distraction or from not wearing a seatbelt then it is absolutely avoidable.”
On duty with Sgt Bryan Smith
- 7am: Morning briefing where patrol routes are allocated and officers are told about intelligence reports and crime hotspots.
- 8.15am: Details of two-vehicle collision in Banbury received. Single roads policing crew deployed.
- 8.55am: Personally deployed to report of two-vehicle injury crash in Witney.
- 10.02am: Details of two-vehicle crash in Bicester received. Double crewed roads policing unit deployed.
- 10.42am: Details received regarding abnormal load (Chinnook helicopter) requiring escort from Pear Tree roundabout to RAF Brize Norton. Double crewed roads policing unit deployed.
- 10.50am: While monitoring radio communications deals with fatal collision enquiries for two ongoing fatal investigations.
- 12.54pm: Report of a two-vehicle ‘fail to stop’ collision involving a foreign-registered goods vehicle.
- 1.44pm: Report of tanker on fire on the M40 between junctions 11 and 12.
HI-TECH FORENSICS ARE ORDER OF THE DAY
WHEN Geoff Chambers started accident investigation work 23 years ago, he would go to a crash scene with a notebook, tape measure, some yellow paint, and a camera.
Now the manager of the forensic collision investigation unit says police go to the scene of road accident armed with the latest technology, including 3D laser scanners.
The information from the scanners, CCTV cameras, Sat Navs, car electrics, road markings and witness statements can all be put together to produce a 3D animation of the accident.
The investigators can also now produce a moving map of the victim’s final movements and a chart measuring their speed up until the final moments.
Mr Chambers, who has investigated more than 1,000 fatal crashes, said: “We have a duty to the family of the person that has died, to investigate that accident to the best of our ability, but also to take bad drivers off the road.”
The retired police officer also said the laser scanners introduced in 2011 made investigation work faster and had cut the average road closure time by 39 minutes.
And he said: “The level of investigation is much greater now because we are using all the technology available to us.”
He also said the 3D animations were now used in court to accurately show how the crash happened.
Chief Insp Parsons said: “This sort of stuff is quite useful for the families to see what has actually gone wrong.”
MERGER HAS HELPED ROADS POLICING UNIT
THAMES Valley Police merged the roads policing unit with the Hampshire Constabulary from April last year to save cash.
The force has committed to save £56.3m between 2011 and 2015 – about 12 per cent of its budget.
But Chief Insp Parsons said the move had helped the roads policing unit .
He said: “It is right that we bear our share of the financial issues the country has got. But by collaborating with Hampshire we have more resilience and more staff to call.
“We have staff on a daily basis crossing over to help each other out.”
The unit now has bases in Abingdon and Bicester, as well as two in Berkshire, two in Buckinghamshire, and three in Hampshire.
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