Nothing sinister. Just everyday carnage.

So the authorities want us to be assured that no-one WANTS to kill us. Within 24 hours of the Glasgow slaughter, motor traffic was allowed again on the busy shopping streets, the blood washed away, and in a few weeks we will hear the conclusion of investigations pointing to something “tragic” having happened, i.e. something beyond our control. Nothing can interfere with motor traffic’s violent overtake of our lives.

Image by SWNS Media 

We welcome the following guest post by Dave Holladay, who has decades of experience in a more ethical transport sector, rail. His suggestions go beyond the immediate cause of the incident and start with the question: “What do we need to do to avoid a similar incident happening again?”

We of course would welcome the introduction of the changes suggested by Dave. We cannot fail to remark however that unless there are tragedies of this scale, the authorities are happy with the status quo, confident that people are not moved by the drip drip of daily killings of pedestrians (that’s right, the average weekly death toll of UK pedestrians is greater than the Glasgow disaster)

Today (Tuesday) we had some fine words from Gordon Matheson about investigation of the Queen Street crash being investigated and the results made public. I might perhaps point out that this investigation is actually a duty mandated on Glasgow Council as the Roads Authority under Section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, but at present there is no requirement to make the results of their mandated investigations into Road Traffic Collisions public, and the fact that Monday’s crash involved a vehicle operated directly by Glasgow Council makes it difficult to consider any investigation carried out under s.39.3.a as completely objective and impartial, just as it is equally flawed to have the Roads Authority then mandated to take the results of the investigations it carries out to advise itself on measures to take which remove the hazards it has in current roads and avoid designing in those hazards on new projects.  The words of Juvenal still hold true Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – a report by the foxes on hen house security lacks significant degree of credibility. 

Just over 15 years ago Lord Cullen’s Inquiries into the carnage of the Ladbroke Grove turned around the way we looked at deaths and injuries on our rail system, providing the independent and objective investigation of rail crashes by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, which are published, with the clear objective of making the lessons learned available to the widest audience, and providing the regulator of the UK’s rail system (ORR) with recommendations which that regulator can mandate the train operators, infrastructure providers and others delivering the operation of railways to deliver and through this make the railway so safe that they can claim not to have killed a passenger on a train since 2007 – a massive change compared to having 40 or more deaths per year in the period leading up to the watershed of Potters Bar, Hatfield etc at the turn of the millennium.

With the outsourcing of the Highways Agency to a contracted operation in England, the Westminster government has recognised the need to have an independent roads regulator to oversee the infrastructure delivery and has the disconnected delivery of regulation of commercial use of the roads through the Traffic Commissioners, albeit appearing to lack the power and resources of the ORR to press the safety detail.  This is not really a surprise as whilst we have a Rail, Air and Marine Accident Investigation Branches, all producing objective and non judgemental reports which are fully accessible on-line, the investigation of road crashes is either through the flawed and unpublished Section 39, or we have the Police investigations, which ultimately focus of who to bring to court for trial, or the insurers investigations seeking a party to bear the civil liability, and if you want to see the Police investigation, inquests, or insurance reports they are all pay to view, and often difficult to obtain.

Can Glasgow’s tragedy be the event which brings the much needed changes? Scotland already needs to match the Westminster detail of a clear and independent regulator to review all aspects of the performance of companies managing the Trunk Roads Network for Transport Scotland, likewise the exclusion of tram systems in Scotland from the regulatory regime of the ORR (which covers all the tram systems in England) means that the 4 tram crashes with buses and coaches, the cyclist-tram crash on a level crossing, the many cyclists falls, and a few other incidents in the first 6 months of operation have not been the subject of any RAIB investigation, nor any equivalent which is then published.  We have a vacuum which needs to be filled, and I’d propose that Scotland looks to the US model of an over-arching Transportation Safety Board, which delivers the impartial and objective investigation of serious incidents across all modes of transport and puts this fully in the public domain, working to banish the acceptance that ‘it happens’ to the generally avoidable toll of death and serious injury on Scotland’s Roads, and hold to account those roads providers who fail to eliminate glaring hazards in road design or management or effectively mitigate the risks. 

There remains the disconnect of having operators regulated by the Traffic Commissioner, and then a possible separate regulator for the infrastructure, and it might be a pragmatic move, for which Scotland’s Government has a strong reputation, to combine the regulation of infrastructure with the regulation of operation under a strengthened Traffic Area Office regime, after all the Scottish Commissioner Ms Aitkin already has a slightly wider remit than her English colleagues on roads issues.   

To look at what a report on the Queen Street crash might consider, it does highlight the power and performance of some of the large vehicles now moving around our city streets.  60 years ago the refuse collection vehicle would have been around a third of the weight and limited to a top speed of 20mph. Now we are at last returning to the 20mph speed limit for busy urban streets, and vehicle technology is giving us the means to deliver it effectively.  The systems which deliver the Euro-rated emissions performance also make it now possible to regulate a vehicle’s speed very precisely, without the loss of performance associated with the old mechanical governors.  One bus service, operated entirely within a zone limited to 30mph maximum, had the top speed limited to 30mph and a resulting reduction in minor crash damage, driver stress and fuel consumption. That speed limiting can be connected to geo-location, so Euro-rated large vehicles such as buses and trucks working around the city streets can be speed limited to 20mph and even slower when moving through pedestrian priority zones. By getting buses, Council trucks and other publicly operated vehicles all operating to the speed limit we gain a far more effective enforcement regime that road signs, speed humps and cameras for keeping all traffic moving along within the speed limit. Oh yes – it may cost money – but how much is a life worth in comparison to a few £’000 per truck or bus…?

One can only be thankful that this incident did not happen with the refuse truck moving along Buchanan, Argyle or Sauchiehall Streets as they sometimes are, but from this event it may be a clear message that all publicly operated vehicles (Refuse trucks, Fire Appliances etc) have some means of governing down their speeds in pedestrian zones which had to be ‘unlocked’ with a deliberate and distinct action before that low speed control is overridden. The further presence of a vanguard on foot should also be enforced for all vehicles moving around on pedestrian-filled streets – a detail of delivering the duty of care required by health & safety legislation which Glasgow Council should be enforcing in a far stronger way, having only recently been fined £20,000 for anther fatal incident with a refuse truck operated without a person on foot to manage pedestrian movements and alert the driver when pedestrians were present but not visible from the driving position.

Dave Holladay

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