Positive Action

Godfrey Holmes re-visits the roundabout that gave birth to a motoring charity.
Words: Godfrey Holmes
Picture: Derbyshire Times

The A619 Chesterfield to Baslow Road has a dark history: the Pottery Cottage murders, people lost on the bleak East Moor – as well as several terrible crashes. And when, in the Spring of 1992, Police were called to an overturned lorry at the important roundabout that introduces you to the Chatsworth Estate and the Peak District, they thought that righting the lorry might be the end ofOverturned Lorry on the Baslow Island the matter.  A blockage. An inconvenience. No real trouble.

Then, to their horror, rescuers found beneath this local, 38-ton tanker, a completely flattened car. It had been stationary as the HGV lost control and now contained the body of University Lecturer, Susan Williams, on her doomed journey home to Bakewell.

The haulage firm responsible – irresponsible – reportedly refused to accept responsibility. Sentences were much more lenient at the end of last Century and are still incredibly lenient for those causing death and injury on the highway.  So the veering driver was sent off to do 200 hours of unpaid community service – while his negligent employer was fined £2300 for defective – and illegal – brakes and steering.

Three years later, in 1995, Mrs. Williams’ daughter Mary – ironically employed as Features’ Editor for Commercial Motor Magazine – gave up her job in order to set up the Road Safety Charity BRAKE : slogan ‘Stopping the Carnage ; Supporting the Victims’. In the beginning, Mary Williams hoped that, with the backing of both the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association, she might be allowed into very masculine lorry yards to talk about safety.

An outsider might imagine that tractor and trailer safety had always been included in the training and certification of HGV drivers and whilst the majority of HGV drivers are well trained and extremely aware of the potential of the machine they are driving, there are now, and as then, some truckers who can be quite gung-ho. Might is right and ‘Just in Time’ forces some drivers to get to their drop-off point too speedily to unload and get back to base. The founder of BRAKE, Mary Williams, was a novelty but has worked hard to produce some effective results.

In her time she has moved from addressing lorry drivers to addressing scholars in their secondary schools; the future young drivers, passengers and pedestrians. It was not too big a step to gather into one Conference Room parents who had needlessly lost their maturing sons and daughters in the normal commute, sometimes after drinking alcohol, sometimes showing off, sometimes late at night, sometimes giving too many of their friends a lift home.

BRAKE is based in West Yorkshire, although its reach is countrywide and international. It is definitely one of the bigger Road Safety Organizations – and one of the most respected. Government Ministers, as well as the Department of Transport, DVLA, the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee, the Highways’ Agency, and the Department for Education, all listen to BRAKE and respond to its campaigns.

Some of BRAKE’s recent Campaigns include ‘Too Young to Die’, ‘Go 20’, ‘Safer Fleets’, ‘Drive Smart!’ and ‘Wake Up!’. This Charity never forget its ‘Vision Zero’ – a stark alternative to attempts to reduce deaths and injuries on the road by 10%. For, logically, the only sensible target must be No Crashes. Road Crashes are not “Acts of God” – nor are the vast majority “Accidents.” BRAKE believes such tragedies can be foreseen and avoided, by at least one party implicated.

So next time an incident occurs, contributing to one of the 750 extra deaths every year – usually to the car driver, cyclist, motorcyclist or pedestrian – you might well hear BRAKE on the news. Among many other testimonies, BRAKE has recorded ‘Rebekka’s Story’ – where Rebekka’s mother Lydia talks of her daughter’s death at the whim of a driver engrossed on his mobile phone; and ‘Darren’s Story’: the UK fire-fighter whose job it is to attend the aftermath of terrible road crashes.

Mary Williams, was awarded the O.B.E. in Millennium 2000’s New Year Honours’ List for her work with the charity.

Godfrey Holmes from the Yew Tree Estate, in his spare time is a volunteer educator and fundraiser for BRAKE. His most recent book is called Vehicle in Collision: What did You see?  (ISBN : 978-0-9536016-9-1).