Deadly dangers on region's rural roads

"We're living a life sentence," says John McSherry.

Poplars tea room, John McSherry, who has won a campaign for speed cameras on the B4176 at Dudley Rd near Claverley.
Poplars tea room, John McSherry, who has won a campaign for speed cameras on the B4176 at Dudley Rd near Claverley.

"Every time I go into my kitchen, I think what would have happened if I had turned left, instead of turning right, when I went to get that takeaway."

Mr McSherry, 70, and his wife Michelle, 58, saw their lives change forever in 2009 when they were involved in a crash on the busy country road close to their home in Claverley, near Bridgnorth. The crash left them both dependent on crutches to walk, sometimes they need a wheelchair. They had to close the restaurant they had been running for the past four years, and need help for basic household chores.

"I have to have somebody in to help with the gardening, which I used to love," he says.

It comes as little surprise to Mr McSherry that new research shows there were 78 per cent more deaths on rural roads in the Midlands compared to urban highways.

A report published this week by insurer NFU Mutual reveals there were 71 fatalities on rural roads across the West Midlands last year.

The number of fatalities showed a 37 per cent increase compared to 2020, with the number of serious injuries also increasing by seven per cent.

The insurer found that 23 per cent of people had been involved in a collision or accident on a rural road.

Jade Devlin, rural roads specialist at NFU Mutual, says: “These latest figures confirm our fears that an increase in rural road traffic has resulted in an increase in the number of fatalities and casualties on countryside roads – with vulnerable road users generally bearing the brunt of it.

“NFU Mutual analysis also shows that in the past four years, over 4,000 people have been killed on rural roads, compared to just under 2,500 on urban roads."

It is a similar picture across the country.

Nationally, there were more than 10,471 fatalities or serious injuries on rural roads in 2021, up by more than 1,000 – or 12 per cent – compared to the previous year. Within that figure, the number killed had seen a seven per cent increase to 981, more than two-thirds higher than those killed on urban roads during the same period.

This was despite a typical rural road seeing just 11,700 vehicles in a 24-hour period, 38 per cent fewer than the 18,100 seen on urban roads each day.

Ironically, Mr McSherry had been campaigning for road safety improvements in the area around his home for three years before the fateful night he went to nearby Worfield to collect a takeaway meal in July 2009

Before the crash, the McSherrys' Poplar Tea Rooms business had just turned a profit for the first time since they started out four years earlier. Mr McSherry had previously worked as an entertainer at Pontin's holiday camps, and had built up a following with his entertainments, which included impersonations of television character Frank Spencer.

The couple were driving along the A454 Bridgnorth to Wolverhampton road in Hilton when they were in collision with a Vauxhall Astra travelling in the opposite direction. The driver of the Vauxhall, 37-year-old Tony Gordon, died at the scene. He was found to have been over the drink-drive limit.

At the time he was given a 10 per cent chance of survival, and both he and his wife were temporarily wheelchair-bound immediately after the crash.

"It has left us both disabled, it has affected my kids, who were left wondering if their mum and dad were going to die, and it has affected the family of the other guy who was killed," he says.

Five months before the collision, Mr McSherry had presented a 1,000-signature petition to Shropshire Council and MP Philip Dunne calling for safety measures along the B4176 'Rabbit Run' from Telford to Dudley, which passes his home.

The road has been the subject of seven deaths over the past 18 years, the most recent being father and son Phil and Jake Taylor, who were killed on Bank Holiday Monday in August. Phil, 60, and Jake, 28, died after their Ford Fiesta collided with a white Skoda on the B4176 near Upper Aston. Four children were also taken to hospital as a result of the collision.

Mr McSherry succeeded in getting a mobile speed camera installed along the stretch, but the Rabbit Run's status as a B-road had proved an obstacle to getting the speed limit reduced.

But he also says the speed patrols have little real effect because drivers just slow down when they see them, and increase their speed afterwards. He says there needs to be a change of policy allowing the use of hidden cameras.

"Cars are bigger and more powerful, and the speed limits are ignored," says Mr McSherry.

"These days people drive bigger cars, and rural roads weren't designed for them."

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