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The road to suicide prevention

The road to suicide prevention
3 min read

The former Shadow Transport Secretary calls on Highways England to learn from the reduction in suicide rates on the railways, following a coordinated response across multiple agencies.

Every death on our transport networks is a tragedy. Reducing the number of people killed or seriously injured by any cause should a political priority, but safety initiatives too often do not extend to suicide prevention. With around a thousand suicide attempts on motorways and major A roads every year, there can be no excuse for inaction.

According to figures released by the Department for Transport 856 suicide attempts were recorded on the Strategic Road Network in 2014. There were 790 attempts in 2015 and a further 568 attempts were recorded in the first half of 2016. These figures only cover incidents that are reported to Traffic Officers and they almost certainly represent an underestimate. Shockingly, the actual number of fatalities is not recorded. Suicides are also excluded from the Department for Transport’s official accidents and fatalities statistics.
Responsibility for addressing the issue falls between multiple agencies but more could be done to ensure a co-ordinated response. Highways England has committed to establishing a Suicide Prevention Group and developing an action plan, but it is not due to achieve these aims until March 2018. This suggests that the issue is not being given the prominence it requires.

It is vital that Highways England learns from the railways, where suicide prevention has long been recognised as a priority. The Rail Suicide Prevention Programme brings together Network Rail, the Samaritans, unions, train companies and the British Transport Police, and there is evidence that the approach is having a positive effect.

More than 11,500 railway staff have been trained by The Samaritans to give them the skills and confidence they need to identify and approach vulnerable people on the rail network and lead them to a place of safety. Staff have intervened on more than 450 occasions over the last twelve months to prevent people from harming themselves on the railways.

This example should be adopted on our national road network as quickly as possible because deferring action until 2018 is simply not good enough. The regulator – the Office of Rail and Road – should also ensure that attempted suicides and fatalities are properly monitored and recorded. Highways England manages the busiest roads in the country and the company should set an example for others to follow.

Suicides are a cause of lasting trauma for families, staff and other transport users. Prevention has been treated as a secondary issue for too long, but if action is taken then this tragic loss of life can be minimised.

(The Samaritans can be contacted by telephone on 116-123)

Lilian Greenwood is the Labour MP for Nottingham South

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