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BLOG | National Road Victim Month: The value of specialist support must not be underestimated

National Road Victim Month is held annually in August to remember people that have been killed or injured on our roads. To mark the month, Dame Vera Baird blogs on the specialist support needs of road crash victims.

This month is National Road Victim Month. It is a time to remember those killed or injured in road crashes and to learn about the injustice that many crash victims face. As the Victims’ Commissioner, I can see that many of these victims will be victims of crime. Too often, crash victims need more support than what is currently resourced and therefore on offer. I’m pleased to see some recent developments in this area, which I reflect upon in this blog. But there remains work to do to ensure all victims are provided with the support they need: at home and through the court system. This was further underlined today (30 August), with the publication of a report by an alliance of leading UK road safety and mobility experts and organisations, calling for road safety leadership by government, including increased support for road crash victims. 

Death and injury on our roads are a devastating reality for too many families up and down the country. A bereavement or catastrophic injury in a road crash can change lives forever and the victims can require specialist support to ensure their immediate and ongoing needs are met. This support pathway has not always been clear or well resourced. This National Road Victim Month, I’m pleased to see progress being made in this area. But there remains more to be done.

Road crashes leave more than the immediate carnage and devastation in their wake. The National Road Victim Service (NRVS), founded and operated by the road charity Brake, estimates that each year there are 4,500 victims in need of help, who are affected by either the death or serious injury of a loved one in a road crash.

We know that where there isn’t immediate and specialist support for these victims, there is a high risk to welfare and wellbeing because the pressures on victims can be intense and immense. After a fatal crash, for instance, there can be a myriad of unfamiliar and unpleasant procedures that victims and the bereaved may be confronted with – and with little preparation or guidance. Victims may be required to identify a loved one’s body, review the post-mortem examination, or be responsible for significant hospital care decisions. If a criminal investigation is launched, victims can also expect to be confronted with a bewildering maze of legal jargon and procedure. For many, this can cause significant stress and further traumatise already traumatised individuals.

There are also often complex and burdensome civil law claims for any losses and injury rehabilitation costs, which often require expert legal help to navigate. Too often this can pass victims by if they are not suitably well advised.

There is a crucial need for an accessible and immediate pathway of care for victims of road traffic crashes, to guide and support them through their journey as a victim. Thankfully, through recent NRVS partnerships with the government and police, this seems to be happening.

Since 2020, the Department for Transport has funded the NRVS to deliver, and continually develop, national expert and clinically-advised care for road victims – right from day one of a crash. This has allowed the NRVS to care for 750 families a year: deploying a paid, professional NRVS Caseworker to each family, who can provide specialist emotional support, advocacy and advice. This valuable work has also been recognised by the police, who have a protocol in operation whereby all police forces provide NRVS information packs to victims at the time of a fatal crash.

As Victims’ Commissioner, I commend this collective effort. But there is still more that can be done. For example, there needs to be an expansion of casework provision to reach more victims of catastrophic injury, to complement the support to the bereaved.

We also need to examine whether there is enough support for victims of road crash crime when they need to go to court. Charities such as Brake can offer help to prepare some victims for court, and sometimes Family Liaison Officers will attend with them. But this is not universal and, without this support, navigating the court system can be an intimidating and anxiety-inducing experience. Witness Care Units can help with practical arrangements, and the court-based Witness Service can assist with a pre-trial visit or verify that they are content with the special measures they have been allowed if they are giving evidence. But the value of specialist support must not be underestimated.

As Victims’ Commissioner, I believe that everyone who has been a victim of crime that is likely to cause them trauma should have their own Independent Victim Advisor (IVA). This individual would support them and advocate for them with the court and other agencies. My predecessor’s excellent report on this will be revisited by my office later this year. I will be calling for the provisions of IVAs for this category of victim and for victims of sexual or violent offences other than road crashes too.

When a crash happens, victims must be helped so that the ‘human impact’ is reduced. We have made great strides in this area and funding for the NRVS from the Department for Transport is to be commended. But there are still too many victims left to fend for themselves. Road traffic crashes are indiscriminate: they can impact all of us at some level, regardless of class or background. It’s crucial then that we all have equal access to high-quality post-crash support.