Toespraak van mr. Pieter van Vollenhoven als voorzitter van de Raad voor de Transportveiligheid en als voorzitter van de International Transportation Safety Association (ITSA) tijdens het International Symposium on Independent Accident Investigation.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking you for your kind invitation. I am delighted to be here with you today. I cannot deny that this sounds like just another polite opening sentence. But believe me. I mean what I say. For today you have placed the subject of safety in the spotlight. In particular, you will be looking at independent investigations into the causes of accidents and incidents. The subject of independent investigations is very close to my heart, and it has occupied my attention in many different ways for many years. My interest in the subject dates from my national service days. Serving with the Royal Netherlands Air Force as a lawyer and reserve officer, I gained my first experience of investigating accidents. It was with the Air Force too that I trained as a pilot. Since my return to civilian life, it has been my privilege to chair a number of boards concerned with transport safety. This has given me a unique opportunity to learn more about the subject. To start with, I chaired the Dutch Road Safety Board. The Board's main task was to advise the Government on road safety policy. But we also managed to gain some experience of investigating accidents. I chaired the Railway Accident Board. This board was established 43 years ago to carry out independent investigations into the causes of accidents. And the same of course applies to the Dutch Transport Safety Board which was recently established on the first of July 1999. This body is responsible for investigating accidents and incidents occurring anywhere in the transport sector, including pipelines. Together with the USA, Canada and Sweden, I set up the International Transportation Safety Association - the ITSA - in 1993. The ITSA unites all multi-modal and some single-modal safety bodies. All have one thing in common. They are responsible for carrying out independent inquiries into the causes of accidents and incidents. As chairman of the ITSA it is one of my jobs to promote these independent inquiries worldwide.
As I have already pointed out, safety and independent investigations in particular are subjects that are close to my heart. In fact, I believe that independent investigations are so essential that the public should have the right to them. And this right, I feel, should be included in the Constitution.
Why do I feel so strongly about the subject?
Because an independent inquiry can be of great value to members of the public - both in general, and individually. The subject of safety has long been a very complex subject, in which many - often conflicting - interests play a role. For the general public, independent investigations can safeguard the transparency of our actions, and help democracy to work properly.
For the various interests at stake could be of such a nature that the parties involved are only too pleased if the true causes of an accident are never revealed. For example, experts were issuing warnings for many years that certain tunnels were unsafe ... But these warnings fell on deaf ears. And when an accident finally occurred, the people in charge claimed that the question of unsafe situations had never been raised.
In the Netherlands, a soldier's name was recently cleared after a fifteen-year struggle. It was his task to inform the next-of-kin that their father, husband or son had been killed while demonstrating how to defuse landmines - and that this had been the victim's own fault. The soldier was not convinced that this was the case. He believed that the mine itself was faulty. He lost his job as a result. And it took fifteen years before his name was cleared. Studies showed that this type of landmine was indeed faulty.
In other words, independent investigations can play a very important role in upholding our democratic system. And by giving the public the right to them, governments underscore this importance.
However, a Dutch Transport Safety Board was set up on the first of July 1999, thanks to a motion put forward by Parliament in November 1993. And what led Parliament to propose this motion? It was a world conference on transport safety, held in 1992, at which members of Parliament were able to meet the members of existing safety boards. It has been an uphill struggle, but I am pleased to say that more and more people and organisations are recognising the importance of truly independent investigations.
There are international debates on this subject in the world of shipping within IMO (International Maritime Organisation) and even in the European Union the issue of independent investigations is raised in the rail- and road sectors.
In the Netherlands, even a survey is being carried out regarding independent investigations in sectors not covered by the Dutch Transport Safety Board. In Japan I have since quite a few years a very good mutual understanding with Professor Seiji Abe. With TASK you started to work in 1993 to establish a professional and independent organisation for investigating railroad accidents.
Due to your activities I have heard that the Railway Director of the Japanese Ministry of Transport has the intention to establish an accident investigation board including the railway and aviation sector. Perhaps your activities will also result in establishing a Japanese Transport Safety Board. An organisation of this kind not only makes society safer but boosts public confidence in independent investigations in general.
I wish all of you every success and as chairman of both the Dutch Transport Safety Board and the International Transportation Safety Association I will of course assist you in any way I can. Especially if you look at the long existing ties between Japan and the Netherlands - 400 years - I would be honoured if we could work together in realising a Japanese Transport Safety Board. It would not only be an important decision for the Asian world but also a great example.
As former President of the Dutch Railway Accident Council I keep the warmest memories of our meetings with TASK.
Thank you very much for your attention.