BRAKE has come under attack recently, and many will wonder why anyone would wish to criticise a road safety charity.

Surely no-one can dispute that their heart is in the right place, that they are trying to save lives and when they get up in the morning to go to work they are doing so for a very worthy cause. But does that mean I feel the comments made by Alisdair Suttie in the Fleet Directory 24/08/11 are unfair?

Alisdair’s final sentence is the most interesting to me. He says: “Brake needs to stop shouting as if there’s a bad connection and start talking to us in a considered and considerate fashion. Maybe then we’d listen.”

So, what’s the issue with shouting? Surely if you’re shouting or banging your fist on the table to get people’s attention, because you want to save lives, that’s not such a bad thing. But if you’re going to make yourself heard, it’s very important to make sure you are making a valid and robust point.

Let’s look at an example from its website.

Justice for victims of life changing serious injury.

BRAKE says: “There is no justice if you are seriously injured by a bad driver. If you walk down a pavement and punch someone in the face, you could be charged with Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH). But if your bad driving paralyses or brain injures someone, the most you can be charged with is ‘dangerous driving’ which doesn’t even mention that someone was injured; and more often than not, the charge will only be ‘careless driving’ which only carries a fine.

This is due to the lack of any charge available to the courts for prosecuting drivers who seriously injure someone through bad driving. There is no equivalent of GBH for injuring by driving a motor vehicle; the most serious traffic charges only relate to death”.

What they are saying here is that if you punch someone causing severe injury you could face a GBH charge, but if you hit someone in a car causing a severe injury you will not.

Are they therefore calling for GBH charges for any driving accident which causes a serious injury?

Will good citizens who simply ‘got it wrong’ one day when driving face the same legal proceedings as a thug who went out on a Saturday night and started a fight? The two scenarios are incomparable and as a result, by even suggesting that the law should be changed to this effect, leads to many road safety professionals and commentators dismissing it.

That has a problematic knock-on effect in my view. Because when BRAKE ‘shouts’ about something which many people won’t agree with, next time a road safety measure is offered by their campaigners it’s scrutinised with a more sceptical eye.

And as certain measures aren’t adopted, BRAKE shouts louder and starts to sensationalise thinking no-one’s listening, believing it’s the only way to grab attention. But to me this is like a parent with a child screaming louder and louder with the parent saying, “I hear you – but I’m no longer listening.”

This is actually disastrous for road safety. Let me reiterate what I said at the start of this blog. I respect BRAKE for their enthusiasm and passion for road safety. But I don’t dismiss Mr Suttie’s point too hastily, because he does have a valid argument here about how to engage with your target market.

When you are well connected, have the ear of politicians and are regularly interviewed in magazines, newspapers, on the radio and on television there’s a danger that you start to believe you’re the only one’s whose opinion is valued.

Yet there are very many people out there with extensive experience in road safety whose opinions also matter, should be taken into account and whose judgement should be respected.

BRAKE may read this and feel I am attacking them. I am not. In fact, I thought long and hard about joining this discussion but did so because I’d like to help ensure that all those involved in road safety have their voices heard and that all companies and organisations work to drive down the casualties on our roads.

However, a bit like some of the unsung heroes you see on TV Awards programmes, I do hope they aren’t losing sight of the fact that many other people in this arena have views which are extremely valuable too.

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