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Getting Motorists to take responsibility

We have civil war on our streets and terrorism on our roads which many accept as normal.  It may seem exceedingly alarmist, yet more fatalities and seriously injured are caused by drivers than by any other crime.  Yet we are prepared to tolerate this because many hold driving as a right while relegating accompanying responsibilities to anorak thinking. Until we become victims that is, when the realities change your life forever. Statistics are faceless and cold. They don’t bring the message home.  Almost three thousand road fatalities per year don’t seem very many compared to other countries.  Nine children killed per week in the UK don’t seem very many until perhaps one of them belongs to you, someone you know.

So how do we get it home that risk taking driving is a fool’s game? Over many years, road safety campaigns have been victim led. Legislation is becoming less forgiving because people have become less tolerant of errant drivers, the untaxed, unlicensed, uninsured, the cowardly hitters and runners.  But the wheels of law making are slow and it has taken eight years to get death as the central issue in death by careless driving, the maximum sentence allowable up to five years.  While legislation has made some advancement, each time we have to invoke the most serious of road traffic laws, someone will probably have been killed or been seriously injured.  At that point, we will have failed someone.

Legislation, education and enforcement are key elements to change driver attitudes but they have to work as equal partners in a rolling cohesive plan with strategy. Laws that cannot be enforced properly because of the lack of manpower is counter productive. There are only about 680 traffic officers for London and random road safety education delays the reversal of road runner mentalities that turn our roads into hell.

Each year new generations of drivers pass their tests and take to the road.  For families, this is a worrying period.  We are very efficient at teaching people how to drive, getting them through the test but not so good at teaching moral responsibility for other road users, especially the vulnerable.

There is a project called Safe Drive Stay Alive borne in Northern Ireland that is successfully running in Surrey and Wiltshire and which the Romford Emergency Services, together with the local authority and Transport for London took to Havering in November 2006.

Three thousand two hundred sixth formers were bussed into a theatre and addressed in seven sittings over four days.  It is a project that will be financed to run again next year and neighbouring boroughs and those who attended, are clamouring to run a similar one.  It is the strongest education project around and runs like this:

Stage. Black backdrop. No props. Spotlight on the story tellers. The Prologue addresses the audience.  There is no diktat or preaching. Just facts. The theme: driving with responsibility.  A film of a real local road crash involving all emergency services sets the scene. The restless, some who think they’ve come to have a good time, soon quieten.  The speakers are not actors. They come from the guts of careers….policemen, firemen, paramedics, people who fear that living and working in the same area might mean coming across one’s own children or loved ones. Each give a graphic detail of their part in the aftermath of road crash attendance but the A & E Consultants are powerful and sobering in the medical details on head and chest injuries that cause paralysis – the Christopher Reeves effect by multiple horse power. The crash victims, those severely maimed, but who still have a voice, and victims’ families, tell their stories – none of them actors   As the ripple effect of one real road crash scenario unfolds, audience attention is captured.

The Safe Drive, Stay Alive project is the nearest experience to a road crash any parent would wish their child to have. It is a powerful forewarning for those that have ears.  The kernel reaction is “shocking, made me think it could be me, statistics you don’t really take on board”, and there are tears.  Better that they should flow now.

Such a project is in the public interest and should have our Councils’ commitment and political will.

Enfield (which together with Barnet has produced some of the worst road fatality and injury statistics of any London Borough) finally agreed to give lift off to an SDSA style project in 2008, a show that had such significant impact that resources and funding were found for their 2009 second project.  Where there is a will.

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SDSA 2008


The road safety charity BRAKE also run road safety education projects in Enfield - the Young Drivers Training Programme - 2Young2Die - but, again, it is an initiative highly dependant on volunteers and, again, some areas are better served than others. 

Driving is a risk taking activity.  It is a responsibility.  When the life of someone close is terminated by the fact of another’s action, the suddenness of violence that impinges on the hitherto personal quiet to which we all grow accustomed, as a right, is permanently traumatising.  The maturing process for all who find themselves caught up in unwelcome tragedy is cruel but for those that have to survive the intrusion of a culture that wants to be seen to be civilised, yet virtually treats road crash victims as acceptable collateral damage, especially by the lack of political will, mostly because it looks inwards, at its pocket, is outrageous.

Safe driving message hits teens hard

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Honest: Nick Bennett relived his accident

Honest: Nick Bennett relived his accident

By Lucy Purdy

"I DON’T know how many bleeding, battered and burned bodies I’ve seen but it’s a lot… far too many. 

“I’m here today because I’m sick to the back teeth of all the carnage, and I’m sick of watching teenagers kill each other on our roads. I’m here today because I don’t want to be holding one of you in my arms hearing you cry for your mum. Because no matter how cool you think you are, you will be crying for your mum. I don’t want to have to make a 3am visit to your parents to say you won’t be coming home any more, and that they can’t see your body because it has been destroyed. 

“This isn’t just death we’re talking about, it is the complete devastation of a body. And these are not exceptional instances, they happen every day.” 

Sergeant Andy Baker is pulling no punches. He is standing on the stage of the Millfield Theatre in Edmonton, addressing an auditorium of 16 and 17-year-olds from schools across Enfield as part of the Safe Drive Stay Alive campaign. And these teenagers are not sniggering, chatting, heckling or fiddling with mobile phones – they’re listening. 

Sergeant Baker’s is just one of a number of first-hand testimonies delivered by paramedics, firemen, police officers, victims and family members on stage as part of a pioneering campaign, now in its third year. Designed to target teenagers as they start learning to drive, Safe Drive Stay Alive educates them in stark detail about the dangers of drink and drug-driving, speeding, using mobile phones and not wearing seat belts. The presentation has a shocking effect – several girls rush crying from the theatre during the testimonies – but its shock factor has a serious purpose. The teens who enter as boisterous, cocky chatterboxes leave noticeably chastened, many with tears still in their eyes, with the memory of what they’ve seen no doubt lingering for much longer than the average classroom lesson. 

One of the speakers is Karen Kawase, a sister in A&E at Chase Farm Hospital. Looking up into the audience, she takes a deep breath before beginning. “People often ask me how I deal with the stress of working in an emergency department, and I answer that it isn’t always like Hollywood movies. But sometimes something will happen which changes people’s lives forever,” she says. 

“It was the early hours of the morning not too many winters ago when the blue phone rang – our direct link with the ambulance service. Seven people had been seriously injured in a road traffic accident. Then we got another call and were told to expect only five, because two had been declared dead at the scene. 

“After what seemed like an age, the ambulance arrived with the first victim, the doors flying open to reveal a very blooded human being, only recognisable as a youth by his Timberland boots. He had been speeding down Windmill Hill and hit a tree head on. 

“We ended up with five dead bodies that night. The night matron had been so traumatised by the experience she had to retire early. She had taken those bodies down to the mortuary and put them into the fridges with their blood dripping everywhere. She couldn’t close the doors properly because their limbs had been so badly dislocated. I will never forget those bodies…” 

Simon Amos from Edmonton fire station is next, an imposing figure with his bulky uniform and steely gaze. “Not too far from here,” he says, looking steadily at the audience, “I went to the scene of an accident where a car had driven into the back of a lorry that was carrying scaffolding poles. I knew something was wrong straight away, because the woman’s screams were deafening. 

“It wasn’t until we opened the door that we realised one of the poles had shot off the back of the lorry and had gone through the windscreen, straight through her son in the passenger seat. 

“She had picked him up from school, was speeding and had gone straight into the back of the lorry.” 

After a slight pause, he then describes going to a hit-and-run in the early hours of New Year’s Day this year. “It was about 3am,” he said. “Two parties were finishing and two groups of people were making their way home. One was in Palmers Green and the other was in west London. Six guys were leaving the second party in two groups and driving in high-powered sports cars, having a bit of a race. As they reached Clockhouse Junction the driver of one lost control, left the road, mounted the pavement and hit the four people walking. 

“When we turned up we saw a guy and a girl in a shop doorway holding each other, just crying. Another guy was on the pavement flat out. We didn’t know whether he was alive or dead. 

“We were told there were four people in the group but we could find only three. Then one of my colleagues shone his torch over a wall and saw what he thought was a pile of clothes. It was the girl we were missing. She had landed quite some distance away. She had broken her neck and died at the scene.” 

The atmosphere in the theatre has transformed, but then Nick Bennett enters the stage. He introduces himself, speaking slowly and with difficulty, but with a palpable determination to have his message heard. Dressed in grey jogging bottoms and a striped polo shirt, he could be any other twenty-something propping up their local bar, except for the wheelchair he now sits in after a horrific crash in 2002. 

“This does happen,” he said. “I was on my way to work early one morning when I came up behind two slow vehicles, so I decided to overtake. I woke up in hospital after spending three-and-a-half weeks in a coma. I had crashed my beloved Corsa head-on into a lorry. 

“I suffered two collapsed lungs and a twisted brain stem. The doctors told me it was only because I was so fit and healthy, because I used to play semi-professional football, that I survived. 

“Please think about what you’re doing and don’t treat the road as a race track, or you will end up like me and, believe me, it’s a living hell. 

“Take a look at all the people around you. They are most probably the mates or friends who will be egging you on in the car to go faster and to take unnecessary risks. But ask yourselves this question: will those same friends still come and visit you when you’re in a wheelchair? Mine don’t.” The bombardment continues. 

Andy Hubbard, a member of the London Ambulance Service who is based at Chase Farm Hospital, recalls seeing an arm protruding from the wreckage of a smash just north of Turkey Street on the A10 on Mothering Sunday in 2006. 

The driver died, leaving not only his mother grieving on one of the most poignant days of the year, but also his fiance to whom he had got engaged earlier that day. 

Road Safety campaigner George Atkinson is one of the last speakers. When he finally reveals that the pretty, smiling girl in the photo is not just another anonymous road-crash victim but his daughter, there is a gasp from the audience. 

Livia was 16 when she was killed, hit by a car which mounted the pavement as she was on her way to a ballet class in Enfield in 1998. 
Mr Atkinson tells the young audience: “Imagine being in a mortuary looking at the dead body of your daughter, her mother begging you to bring her back to life, but she is stone cold dead on a black marble slab. 

“Her mother is asking, ‘what if she wakes up and I’m not there? She’ll be all alone in the cold.’ 

“My wife now suffers from a battlefield disorder. Her mind resonates from the events of that evening and I’ve been told the driver of the car suffers from it as well. 

“There are no winners from a car crash. We only have one life and we need to look after it.” 

Afterwards, Mr Atkinson admitted to the Advertiser that he was concerned about the project’s future, given the current financial squeeze. Despite drawing great praise from the visiting transport minister Mike Penning, Safe Drive Stay Alive’s future is in the balance. Mr Atkinson’s brave and heart-breaking testimony, delivered with steady control but obvious pain in front of the smiling face of his late daughter which had been projected on stage, was enough to convince me that Safe Drive Stay Alive must work – and must continue.

http://www.northlondon-today.co.uk (SAFE DRIVE STAY ALIVE, Enfield 2010)




Language is a connecting tool.  How we use it expresses who we are and how we and our institutions evolve.

A change in language is required to change the ongoing mentality that road crashes are accidents. “Accident” is the legal term and this being so it has created a mind set, especially where road fatalities and injuries are concerned

So, Road Traffic Accidents stopped being RTAs on a form, ten years ago.
Collision Investigation Units now deal with road traffic collisions. 

Yet, “accident” is preferred, better managed by brains so used to it. Inevitably, it is indecisiveness that influences the pace of change and awareness. It accommodates irresponsibility and ongoing reasons for outrageous leniency.  When judges sentence, for example, they are keen to point out that they are not sentencing pieces of paper.  Well, neither are driver victims.  

It is essential, therefore, that educational literature and campaigns that aim to raise awareness among young people, now, those aimed at the new generations, 3-5s, 7-11s and 11-16s are designed to change the inference of driver error acceptability by society, by the repeated use of words such as “accident”, “accidental” and concepts such as “wear bright clothes in the dark”, inferring it could be your fault if you are not seen; “a car can’t dodge what it cannot see”, inferring that there is no driver responsibility and that some fatalities and injuries are inevitable, and, therefore, acceptable collateral damage. This is not a constructive starting point to instil the message of driving responsibility.  

Language change has been imposed by law to cover any other area of violence or harassment but the same requirement is not being carried over into the legal or educational zones of road safety.

Government has a duty to get its own act in order, first and foremost, and this it can do by rewording and reprinting its own THINK! Education resources that encompass concepts such as Traffic is the biggest cause of accidental deathfor 12-16 year olds and where subjects for discussion and role play amongst the young, within the Citizenship framework, are titled The Causes of Road Accidents or Is it an Accident, etc?

Mixed messages slow down change. 


Safe Drive Stay Alive
Learn and Live

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