Expert eyes cast on scenes of Cumbria accidents
Last updated at 17:03, Monday, 16 July 2012
EVERY time there is a death on Cumbria’s roads, the Collision Investigation Unit springs into action to find out what has happened and bring those responsible to justice. GILES BROWN spoke to officers as they burned rubber in a bid to recreate the past
THERE can be few people who are more aware of the consequences of bad driving than PC Phil Murray.
As the senior collision investigator for Cumbria police, it falls to him and his team to cast a cool and analytical eye over scenes of immense personal disaster.
Whenever someone is killed on the roads, or injured so seriously their injuries could prove fatal, the unit begins a process of investigation which can involve months of painstaking work.
Sadly, there is no shortage of work for his team of seven, two of whom are based in Ulverston and the rest at police headquarters in Penrith.
“You will be amazed how many people don’t realise what happens, even when you have a crash at a relatively low speed,” PC Murray says.
“When it goes wrong you can’t do anything. Once circumstances have led to the collision you are just a passenger and it’s all down to luck.”
When people’s luck runs out, the team has to piece together what has happened to prepare a file for use in a court case or inquest.
Their work usually begins by talking to the first officers on the scene to get an overview of the situation.
However, the investigators deliberately avoid speaking directly to witnesses or the families of victims so they can stay detached.
Their cases depend on precise measurements of air temperature and road temperature and the analysis of tyre marks, which often prove more reliable than eyewitnesses.
“You get people who say someone was speeding when they were actually doing the speed limit and the witness was just standing still,” says PC Craig Irving.
“You get people who will swear blind the vehicle was travelling in the opposite direction to what it actually was.”
To gauge the traction of the road surface and the speed vehicles were travelling, police skid their own cars or vans at the crash scene to gauge the “grippiness” of the road surface. In motorbike accidents, the crashed vehicle is placed on the road and dragged along the asphalt.
The investigators video and measure the scene using theodolites (surveying equipment) to create an accurate map of the crash site, as well drawing detailed conclusions from smears of melted bitumen in the road surface.
Specialist vehicle examiners work like mechanical pathologists to recreate the vital moments in a fatal crash.
“You can look at the tyres, which are like fingerprints really, they can tell you a lot,” says specialist vehicle examiner PC Shaun McKeown.
“Things like lights can tell you a lot, you can tell which lights were illuminated at the time of the accident.”
PC Irving says investigators have to approach each case as coldly and objectively as possible, even though they usually involve the death of at least one person.
“You do get a bit emotionally detached,” he says. “If you go to an accident that has involved children or something like that it can throw you, but you definitely try to remain as neutral as possible.”
PC Murray is passionate on the subject of bad driving.
He does not blame excessive speed alone for accidents, instead saying people’s attitude to driving can be more of a factor.
Part of the problem, he says, is that people feel cocooned and safe in the comfort of their cars. The investigators joke that spikes should be installed on steering wheels in place of airbags to discourage people from driving recklessly.
“It’s not necessarily that you have a crash because you are breaking the rules, it is just because you are driving stupidly,” says PC Murray.
“The whole thing is about chilling out when you are driving.
“What happens is that people can see themselves as being in conflict with other drivers and once that happens they are concentrating on the conflict, rather than driving safely.”
He is bemused that people only have to pass one test before they are allowed on the roads – without even going on the motorway – and then drive for a lifetime without any refresher courses.
Although the advent of air ambulance services has had a big impact on reducing fatalities by getting people to hospital quicker, PC Murray is still not sure whether there has been a real increase in drivers’ awareness of the risks they run.
He believes more work could be done by educating people about this aspect of driving.
“What you really have to ask yourself is whether you are targeting the right cause, which is driver attitude.”
First published at 16:11, Monday, 16 July 2012
Published by http://www.nwemail.co.uk
Have your say
interesting article but ultimately Cumbria police do not apparently have the capability to conduct effective enforcement - A66 single carriageway sections - all wagons do 60 mph - because there isn't anyone to stop them or check their tachos. They don't do that in dumfries and galloway because they stand a greater chance of being caught there.
Well actually speeding is a crime if it breaks the law of the land. However speed itself isnt dangerous, inappropriate speed in the wrong place is. The modern car / modern brakes argument is complete rubbish as an excuse to drove fast where you see fit.Perhaps the local traffic police would like to watch Ironworks road on way system on the approach to Ford/Vauxhall and see the morons doing 45mph to 60 mph each and every day not caring who they may possibly hit or crashinto. This has been reported to the police several times but they seem more interested on doing random vehicle checks on the A590 for builders not having the right form to move some bricks around than safety.Brian - I agree totally, drivers look out of your window, especially the windscreen and look further than just the end of your bonnet and you may even see the other car overtaking on the Dalton bypass before you pull out into its path as I see almost every week as well !
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