Kennedys has welcomed UK government plans to create a Road Collision Investigation Branch (RCIB) but warned its findings should not be used by courts to determine individual blame for accidents.
Setting up a counterpart for the branches that already exist for rail, air and maritime accidents could mean “greater cooperation and unified thinking” that lead to the roll-out of preventive measures.
Responding to the government consultation on setting up the RCIB, Kennedys said its reports could “better inform stakeholders and law-makers when reviewing standards and duties of care of road users, the rules of the Highway Code and so on, and in particular asserting baseline standards in relation to use of new motor vehicle technologies like automated driving systems”.
The primary aim of the RCIB would be to carry out thematic investigations and probe specific incidents of concern to establish the causes of collisions and make independent safety recommendations to help improve road safety across the country.
However, Kennedys said it was concerned by the suggestion that the RCIB might in certain circumstances determine blame or liability. “This appears to fly in the face of the principle that it should be a neutral body whose aim is to focus on the learning and adoption of safety lessons,” it said.
Other accident investigation bodies do not do this and the RCIB could be “compromised” if it were seen to be involved in pointing the finger, the response continued.
One way of preventing this would be to ensure that the RCIB almost always looked at collisions from a “higher level and less granular perspective”; alternatively, its work product should enjoy legal protection and ring-fencing.
Kennedys said: “To take just one example, for a criminal regulator to have the ability to pray in aid directly RCIB’s material as evidence of guilt of any given defendant would in our view completely undermine the RCIB’s status as a neutral, no-blame, lesson learning organisation.”
Naomi North, a motor crime partner at Kennedys, says: “An independent body could also provide greater assurance to victims and their families that steps are being taken to try and prevent similar incidents.
“We often see prosecuted cases where the injured individual or their family have little agency in that prosecution. The prosecution of drivers involved in itself does not provide assurance that a similar incident may be prevented.
“Government figures show that, in 2020, there were 115,584 casualties from road traffic collisions, 1,460 of which were fatal and a further 22,069 led to serious injuries. Anything we can do to reduce these numbers can only be good.”