Concern as roads death toll rises

A SENIOR road safety engineer last night defended Suffolk's roads in the wake of a crash which claimed the lives of a mother and her three young children.

A SENIOR road safety engineer last night defended Suffolk's roads in the wake of a crash which claimed the lives of a mother and her three young children.

Rod Sore, team leader of safety and signals at Suffolk County Council, said he felt the authority was doing all it could to prevent accidents.

But, as the death toll on Suffolk's roads this year rises to 49, many will feel more action should be taken to stop the carnage. In the whole of 2002, there were 43 deaths and in 2001 there were 53, according to road chiefs.

Cortina Hamilton, 20, and her three young children – Jalin, five, three-year-old Alyssa and Malik, 22 months – died on Friday night when their Honda Accord collided with another car before landing on its roof in the water-filled dyke.

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Mrs Hamilton is thought to have been driving to RAF Mildenhall to pick up her airman husband when her car collided with the Vauxhall Vectra on the A1101 at Burnt Fen, near Mildenhall.

Last night, Mr Sore said: "The figures for fatalities do vary and fluctuate, and this is one of those upward blips that happen at times – but it is a cause for concern.

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"That said, we are doing our best and I think we are doing fairly well. As we stand at the moment I think the county's roads are good."

He added: "The council is very safety-orientated, they feel it's a vital area and it's one in which we can make a difference.

"We've been very fortunate that in the last few years that we've got a very good proven record in preventing accidents.

"There are always roads that we can improve within limited budgets, but there's also a huge responsibility on each of us to take care.

"We are not washing our hands of responsibility but the roads generally in this county are pretty good."

Mr Sore explained that the council is set to spend £2.5 million this year on road safety schemes – up from around £750,000 five years ago.

And the authority also carries out annual local safety schemes, which sees officers monitor the entire road network, identify trouble spots and recommend improvements.

Any potential road improvement is then costed out, using Government figures to determine whether the scheme is viable.

The average cost to the country of an accident is estimated at £76,070, while fatal accidents cost some £1,365,310 – consisting of things like hospital expenses, insurance work, investigations and a victim's loss of input into the economy.

Mr Sore explained: "We look for a 250% on an investment so, if we're going to spend £10,000 on a scheme we'd be looking to get 2.5 times that back in terms of the cost of accidents that we have prevented.

"It does seem cold to calculate in money the value of accidents or lives, but that is the best way to do it.

"We could always do with more money, but generally speaking we do pretty well."

Mr Sore also issued an impassioned plea to drivers to take more care on the region's roads.

"Accidents are terrible things to happen," he said. "They are devastating events in people's lives and I would not want to cheapen that.

"However, all too often the road is blamed - we see headlines like 'killer roads', but that is rarely the case.

"It's the actions of the people driving on those roads in most cases that lead to these terrible events.

"We investigate every single fatal accident fully, in co-operation with the police, and we find that the majority of these tragedies are caused by factors which aren't amenable to engineering solutions.

"For example, people fall asleep at the wheel or take risks that they shouldn't – we are only ever really nibbling away at the problem, and we can't fully address the issues.

"I would urge the people of Suffolk to keep calm, examine the way that they drive, and think if they could do better.

"We could all improve by allowing ourselves a little more time to get to our destination, driving more safely and arriving later if necessary - it is better to arrive late than never.

"People should not automatically assume that the road is to blame when something goes wrong - most times it is not."

But the man who presided over Suffolk's roads for more than a decade criticised their current state and called for "massive investment" to bring them up to standard.

Jeffrey Stansfield served as the county surveyor for Suffolk County Council for 12 years before retiring in 1995.

But he claims roads have since been falling into disrepair – endangering the lives of thousands of motorists.

He said: "We did some good work and good things with road safety prominent amongst it but in my opinion this present administration at County Hall has done virtually nothing.

"It has been a bad year for road accidents in Suffolk – these are lives that are being lost and that's what makes you so desperate about it.

"When you look at the number of deaths on Suffolk's roads you have to say that, if they all happened at once in one place like a plane crash, there would be a national outcry about it."

Mr Stansfield added: "The trunk roads and dual carriageways are in reasonably good condition – it's the large mileage of secondary roads across the region that are the problem.

"They have had such little investment and traffic has grown so rapidly that it's a slippery pole which I don't think we are ever going to be able to climb up – we have missed the chance and now we do not have the money."

Mr Stansfield said that public transport in the region is simply not good enough for people to leave their cars at home, meaning huge amounts of money are needed to improve the county's roads.

"There's got to be a massive investment of money," he added. "We need it not only to maintain the current roads but also for many other vital things like improving known accident blackspots.

"I'm afraid that I can't see many signs for improvement in the future though. There's an enormous amount that needs to be done but at the moment there seems to be no money and no political will to do it."

A senior member of Bury Traffic Unit said there were no reoccurring reasons why the number of fatal accidents on Suffolk's roads has risen.

The tragic accident on the A1101 at Burnt Fen on Friday brought the current number of fatal accidents in the county to 49.

The figure includes the number of people who have died in or as a result of road accidents – including motorists who die of natural causes while at the wheel.

But acting inspector Graham Burch, of Suffolk police, said there was not one particular reason why the figures had gone up and said the amount of serious injury accidents this year had actually gone down.

Insp Burch said: "It does go in peaks and troughs. We normally average about 50 fatal accidents in a year.

"So far this year, there has not been one cause involved in most of the accidents. We always look at possible causes and engineer solutions."

Insp Burch declined to say whether there should be improvements to the A1101 in the wake of the crash at Burnt Fen until the traffic unit's investigation was completed.

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