Regular readers of this blog will know that road safety is something I am passionate about improving. Simply, we have too many deaths and serious injuries on our roads in Devon and Cornwall, and the vast majority of them avoidable.
You might have been forgiven for thinking that one of the few advantages of the coronavirus lockdown, which has traffic on our roads return to 1950s levels, would be a parallel reduction in these tragic figures. Sadly in Devon and Cornwall the reverse appears to be the case. Since strict regulations came into force there have been several collisions on our roads, at least four people have been killed in them and several have been seriously injured.
Losing a loved one in any circumstances is dreadful but in such a shocking and sudden way must be completely devastating, and my thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed. They will now be organising funerals which have to take place with severe limitations on them so more lives are not put at risk by coronavirus.
I also feel for those who spent their Easters praying that those seriously injured on our roads pull through. As I write several of those seriously injured are fighting for their lives, including a pedestrian struck by a car in Cornwall whose condition was described as critical.
The statistics make the last fortnight among the worst in recent years, yet Cabinet Office data shows that traffic levels were down around 73% nationally in the week to March 29 as the vast majority of people comply with the request to stay at home and save lives. The numbers of cars on our roads is down to 1955 levels, so the number of serious collisions in Devon and Cornwall is at stark odds with this.
It is too early to tell what caused the incidents I have referred to, but police will be doing their utmost to determine whether anyone was at fault and to take action if necessary. A forensic examination of a crash scene takes up considerable time and resourcing though, at a time when the force is coping with the demands of understanding and enforcing new regulations while also preparing for the fact it might well lose more officer and staff time to Covid-19 sickness or the requirement to comply with social isolation rules.
Our blue light colleagues, too, could really do without the additional pressure that road traffic collisions place upon them.
One of the recent incidents occurred on the A39 near Wadebridge, on March 31. A collision between two vehicles it resulted in the death of one man and put another, a 49-year-old man, in hospital with serious chest injuries. Not only did it heap tragedy and distress on two families, it also tied up dozens of NHS workers for several hours.
It happened when the number of cases of Covid-19 in Cornwall were relatively low, but as we reach the fortnight when cases are predicted to peak, we really need to ensure that as many of our ambulance drivers, paramedics, doctors and hospital beds are freed up and the public heed the instructions to stay at home.
We all have a part to play in this, and it is not just road users who I would urge to take extra care. By all means exercise in line with Government guidelines, but please do not take part in risky activities that might cause injury and necessitate a trip to hospital.
I know that most people are making incredible sacrifices at the moment, and the police here have not had to get tough with many, but when the spirit of the regulations are flouted, they will take action. Easter weekend saw fines issued at several locations for people who were making unnecessary journeys, among those stopped was a family who were going fishing in the early hours of Saturday morning. I hope they reflect on the police time they used up and the risk they posed to some of our most vulnerable residents as they made their way back home.
I would like to end on a positive note, though. Since Cornwall Council appealed for second home owners to offer their properties to emergency services workers or victims of crime who might need a temporary place to stay offers have come forward. I have also heard that second-home owners who had been planning to spend Easter in our area re-routed their supermarket delivery so it could go to NHS staff. When I hear such stories I remain confident that together, our society will get through this. Perhaps [delete even], we will emerge even stronger.
If you have dashcam footage of a road traffic collision this can be submitted to Devon and Cornwall Police via the ‘Operation Snap’ page on devon-cornwall.police.uk. Keep up with the latest news and advice from my office by signing up to ‘Neighbourhood Alert’ at devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk.