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80-year-old pioneer in vehicle safety wins OBE

Chris Hanson-Abbott, the 80-year-old world pioneer in vehicle safety, who fought to bring the reversing alarm to the UK and Europe, has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to road safety.

Chris, the chairman and chief executive of Brigade Electronics – the vehicle safety systems provider – battled with road safety experts along with the government and the green lobby in a one-man crusade to get the alarm to market. The struggle was not helped by objections from the then Department of Transport which tried to outlaw it and, more recently, resistance from the environmental lobby over noise pollution.

When Chris introduced the alarm in the 1970s, shocking statistics from the Health Safety Executive revealed that 23% of deaths were as a result of reversing and that over 40% of those fatalities could have been prevented if reversing beepers had been used.

“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 and unwary pedestrian behind a vehicle that it was being driven blindly. And I was from outside the industry, previously working as a shipbroker!” says Chris.

Chris’ persistence finally paid off and his faith in the life-saving nature of the reversing was eventually proved right.

Not content with the success of the reversing alarm Chris went on to spearhead the development of a raft of innovative vehicle movement safety products including the first radar and ultra-sonic reversing aid; the first camera-monitor system for driver rear vision; the first real-speech reverse warning and the first wide-angle rear view ‘Fresnel’ lens for buses and motor homes.

The latest and most exciting development that Chris and his team have pioneered is a 360-degree camera/monitor system that gives drivers a continuous bird’s eye view all around the vehicle.

As well as heading up Brigade Electronics, Chris also brought reversing hazard awareness to the public’s attention when he formed the National Reverse-in-Safety Campaign with Sir Stirling Moss as its President.

Despite now being in his 81st year and despite dedicating nearly four decades to life-saving worldwide, Chris still works a full week. He is still determined to continue to save lives, tragically and needlessly lost to vehicle hazards, by any way possible.

Chris, who says he is “delighted” to accept the OBE, believes his teachers and fellow school-mates would be stunned by his current success and renown.

“I wish my headteacher could have known about my career and my OBE as at school I was a below-average all-rounder, excelling only at rifle-shooting, comic opera and the ukulele.

“Seriously, to be honoured with an OBE for “Services to Road Safety” is significant, not only as recognition of my personal efforts, but also of the enormous progress that has been made in vehicle safety since the 1970s. I am delighted to have played my part and that my persistence in getting approval for the reversing alarm finally paid off. Who would have thought that an octogenarian outsider could have exposed road safety complacency, challenged the ‘Nimbys’, won his battle with the government and safety ‘experts’ and go on to prevent the loss of thousands of lives?”

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