Road Safety GB wishes to convey its deepest sympathy to everyone involved and affected by the appalling tragedy that unfolded on the M5 on Friday evening – and its support and admiration for colleagues in the emergency services who had to deal with the aftermath.
There is no need for further news coverage of the event on this website – that has been, and continues to be, covered by the national media.
It is also far too early to speculate on the causes of the tragedy, and a police investigation is underway. While many road safety organisations, including Road Safety GB, refrained from commenting, others voiced their views.
Alan Kennedy, chairman of Road Safety GB, said: “This is a rare but terrible tragedy that will affect everyone who reads about it to some degree. However, the effects will be felt much, much deeper and wider, through the families, friends and colleagues of all who were involved. Events such as this remind us all how vulnerable we are, and how much risk is involved when driving.”
Although motorway crashes are a regular occurrence, incidents on this scale are very rare indeed. This is the worst incident for a generation and Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, was quick to remind people that motorways are "our safest roads by a long, long way".
While acknowledging that there are fewer crashes on motorways per mile travelled than on other roads, Brake the road safety charity made the point that when they do happen they are more likely to lead to death because of the high speeds involved.
Ellen Booth, Brake senior campaigns officer, says: “It’s really important to stress that this kind of carnage is happening on a daily basis on our roads – five people are killed every day, but this often doesn’t make the headlines."
Referring to the Government’s decision to consider raising the speed limit on motorways from 70mph to 80mph, Ellen Booth said: “Government policy should not be doing anything to increase the number of man-made, unnatural deaths occurring.
“It’s relevant to today’s story (the M5 incident) because if you raise the motorway speed limit it sends out the message that it’s okay to go faster on our motorways."
The Association of British Drivers (ABD) published a press release describing road safety charities as “circling vultures over M5 dead”.
Brian Gregory, ABD chairman, said: "It is entirely predictable and reprehensible that anti-car/anti-driver groups would try to use the M5 disaster to bolster their demonstrably weak arguments against raising the motorway speed limit to 80mph.
“The proposed change to 80 mph is in order to bring the limit in line with the 85th percentile speed (the speed that 85% of drivers choose not to exceed). Accidents aren’t caused by a ‘number on a pole’ and the M5 disaster will be shown to be no exception."
In the wake of the tragedy, the IAM is calling on the Government to pilot an 80mph limit on a controlled and managed motorway to assess its practicality and safety, and road users’ reaction to it. The IAM also highlights the need for a full risk assessment of an increase in the speed limit, and believes strict enforcement is required to ensure greater compliance with the limit.
Simon Best, IAM CEO, says: “A fifth of motorway-users already travel at this increased speed, and more than half exceed 70mph when they can, suggesting that a properly controlled 80mph limit may not show huge increases in carbon or road casualties.
“Raising the motorway speed limit has been debated for many years, and the evidence is that the motoring public are ready for it. The transport secretary should now publish a consultation with firm proposals.”