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Former shipping expert turns the tables on road safety complacency and wins OBE

A former shipping expert who shook up the road safety establishment in the 1970s and battled the then government head-on to introduce the revolutionary reversing alarm has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in recognition of his services to road safety.

Christopher Hanson-Abbott, the 80 year old Founder Chairman of Brigade Electronics opened a tireless, life-saving, one-man crusade to introduce reverse-in-safety systems in the face of fierce government and environmental opposition.

According to shocking Health & Safety figures published in the 1970s a quarter of all fatalities on vehicles at work happened when reversing and it was estimated that over 40% of those deaths could have been prevented had reversing beepers been used. In addition, the Association of British Insurers concluded at the same time that 25% of all motoring fatalities were consequent upon reversing.

"It defies belief that, until I launched my crusade to eradicate a quarter of all motoring fatalities, there was absolutely nothing available to assist a driver to reverse safely, nor to warn the unseen pedestrian behind a vehicle that it was being driven blindly. And I was from outside the industry, professionally a City shipbroker!" says Hanson-Abbott.

This inspiring story began when he first heard a beeping sound on a Tokyo street during a business trip. "I noticed a reversing truck emitting this beeping sound. This was my Damascene conversion moment – I was hooked," he says. Excited by the beeping truck, Hanson-Abbott tracked down the beeper’s inventor – a Mr Yamaguchi – who granted him the UK and Europe agency.

Persistence and determination were essential to get the beeper to the UK market in the face of multiple challenges, including implacable resistance from the then Department of Transport which announced that reversing alarms contravened the Construction & Use Regulation which stated that the sound of a horn should be "continuous" and a beeper was not. Disregarding this bureaucratic bone headedness Hanson-Abbott fought on to bring his dream to fruition and four years later, after ceaseless lobbying, the Department of Transport published an amendment, permitting the use of reversing alarms on vehicles of over 2-tonnes.

Hanson-Abbott and his team at Brigade Electronics have gone on to launch a whole raft of life-saving firsts, including:

the first radar and ultra-sonic reversing aid
the first camera-monitor system for driver rear vision
the first real-speech reverse warning
the first wide-angle rear view "Fresnel" lens for buses and motor homes
the first 360-degree birds-eye view camera-monitor system

All these are now supplied to vehicle operators in every continent on the planet.

Having accomplished so much during his long career, Hanson-Abbott is not one to rest on his laurels. He still works tirelessly on solving vehicle movement safety issues with the same vision, passion and drive. His current focus is on the hazard of slow-moving electric vehicles travelling soundlessly. Key member of a UN working group, Hanson-Abbott and his team is drafting a United Nations General Technical Regulation (GTR) for added directional white-sound which warns pedestrians and cyclists of an approaching electric vehicle and its approach direction The GTR is scheduled for publication in 1916.

Hanson-Abbott is delighted with his OBE but stresses that his 38-year campaign to cut vehicle-related fatalities is far from over: "It’s wonderful to be recognised for something that I have been passionate about for half my life. Who would have thought that an outsider from the shipping industry could successfully have challenged the government, road safety "experts", ‘Nimbys’ and the environmental lobby and emerged the winner… with the added prize of having prevented the loss of thousands of lives?!" That is the real reward.

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