Accidents waiting to happen
Shortly after we arrived in Australia, there was a terrible car crash in Victoria. The remains of the car in which five young men died north of Melbourne are being loaded on to a salvage truck in the picture above. The five died instantly; somehow the younger sister of one of them survived. The driver was 19 and a P-plater: he lost control at 140 km/hr and hurtled into a tree which then fell, splitting the car in two. He had been drinking. The victims' ages ranged from 15 to 19. One of the ambulance paramedics, a man with 30 years' experience, claimed it was the most horrific scene he'd ever attended.
Such a needless loss of life is shocking to anyone, but cuts especially deep in parents of new drivers. I felt deeply upset for the families and friends of these young people and was immediately taken back to similar happenings in the UK. Over a few months, several of my children's contemporaries lost their lives in car accidents. Back there over christmas, I asked my younger daughter about one of the survivors who, a week or so after passing his driving test and acquiring his first car, drove into a tree and instantly killed his best friend who was sitting alongside him. On life support for a while himself, and not expected to live, the young driver recovered to the extent that he is now confined to a wheel chair, probably for life, and suffers from depression.
Before the death of one of my son's year group, I had been a driver who fastened their seat belt once they were driving down the road. Not after this young man died, however. He was not wearing his seat belt when he failed to control his car on a roundabout. For a long time afterwards I thought of him as I reached for my belt before moving off. My son didn't drive again for years.
Young people may hear their parents but they don't always heed. They are much more likely to take notice of what their peers have to say. Any scheme whereby young people who have previously been affected by appalling road accidents speak to others about the risks of driving recklessly has to be a good thing, doesn't it? Motivated by bravado and emboldened by invincibility, young drivers, especially males, need all the help they can get.
In 2009 a film called Sudden Impact was made for the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service's Awareness and Accident Prevention programme. It tells the story of four young men killed in a devastating crash near Warwick 18 months previously: the mother and friends of one of the victims describe the impact of the crash on their lives. The RAAP programme has been taken into high schools for the past six years and presented to more than 30,000 students a year.
Queensland Transport department figures show that there are 100 deaths and 2000 hospitalisations a year involving drivers aged between 17 and 24. Eighty per cent of those are male.
In December Campbell Newman's government scrapped the RAAP, saving $150,000. In response to my questions, the office of the Minister for Police and Community Safety explained that this was because of duplication of services. Schools can contact the Transport or Education departments if they require speakers on road safety. The money saved will be spent on frontline fire and rescue services, I was assured. And the QFRS are still available to talk in schools about fire safety if required.
I've watched Sudden Impact, and can well imagine the effect it would have on high school students. And if it was considered good enough to use by the QFRS, then it would be good enough to be shown to my children, were I a Queensland parent.
This post was last edited on 24 January 2013