Why we really need National Road Safety WeekFor your employees
February 15, 2012. Peter Frazer is a manager for Roads and Maritime Services in New South Wales. It is a day like most others and he’s in a meeting, just like any other. On his desk, away from the meeting room, his mobile phone rings. Away from the meeting room, his mobile phone goes to voicemail. His daughter, Sarah, enroute to Charles Sturt University in Wagga, is calling him. She leaves him a message.
It’s around 12:30pm later that day when Peter listens to his daughter’s voicemail. She’s in tears. Her car broke down on the side of the Hume Freeway. She’s waiting for an NRMA tow truck driver to arrive and she’s scared. Sarah’s pulled off to the side of the road as far as she can, but she can’t even get herself out of harm’s way. Trucks and other vehicles going past her stationary vehicle, on the country’s busiest freeway with a 110km/h speed limit, swoop furiously, shaking both her and her car. No one slows down for this young woman. No one gives her the space she needs to be safe.
When he arrives home later that day, he notices his son’s ute parked, facing the wrong direction. And there’s a NSW Police car there too. As Peter relates the story, his first thought was to tell his son to move his car in case the police book him.
“I hadn’t even thought they could have been here for us,” Peter recalls. “When I walked in, there are two female police officers in tears, my family screaming and crying.”
As the dreadful realisation of what had happened dawned on him, Peter remembers falling to his knees and saying, “She’s just broken down”.
Peter later learns, courtesy of the tow truck driver’s dashcam footage, that Sarah had pulled off in an emergency lane, which was 1.6 metres wide. On the opposite side of the freeway are brambles and dense bush. She literally could not get off the road.
As Sarah’s car is about to be loaded up onto the truck, both Sarah and the tow truck driver are killed instantly as they’re struck by an oncoming vehicle. Their bodies are left in pieces. The whole incident takes 63 seconds, from the time the towie pulls over in front of her car.
As the family met just two days later, in the midst of the trauma and grief, Peter’s eldest son, an apprentice carpenter who’d just turned 21, said the family needed to do something in Sarah’s name.
“And he immediately comes up with Safer Australian Roads and Highways — S.A.R.A.H — which, to this day, gives me shivers because I don’t know how Ben of all people could have come up with it,” explains Peter. “And he said the other thing is we’ve got to ensure people “Drive So Others Survive!”. That’s become the fundamental theme for National Road Safety Week, and it now appears on those icons like the Sydney Harbour Bridge during this event that we created – National Road Safety Week.”
National Road Safety Week
With around 1,200 people killed and approximately on roads annually, National Road Safety Week in Australia (May 14-21) and Road Safety Week in New Zealand (May 15-21) are two of the most important events on the Australasian annual calendar.
Supporters of National Road Safety Week are being asked to take a pledge to, as Ben Frazer so succinctly originated the phrase, “drive so others survive”. Motorists are asked to pledge, via the National Road Safety Week website that they will:
- Drive as if my loved ones are on the road ahead;
- Remove all distractions and never use my mobile phone while driving;
- Not put other people at risk by speeding, driving while tired or under the influence of alcohol/drugs;
- Protect all vulnerable road users, especially those whose job places them in harm’s way, by slowing down and giving them the space they need to be safe.
For Peter, this pledge is a vital part of the initiative: “We don’t take any names, we don’t take email addresses, we just ask drivers to go and have a look at the pledge. All they have to do is click it and make their own personal statement.”
“From a marketing point of view, we get zero out of it,” he continues. “But it’s the issue of them making their personal commitment to drive so others survive. That’s an incredibly important thing that people can choose to do with National Road Safety Week.”
As well as the individual pledge, National Road Safety Week has daily themes:
- Remember the 1,200;
- Your Road Safety Pledge;
- Road Safety for Young People;
- Slow Down and Give Them Space;
- How Safe is My Ride?;
- Let’s All Get Home Safe;
- Share the Path;
- Take Care on Regional Roads.
Peter is passionate about the meaning behind these daily themes, saying that individual organisations have the opportunity to champion awareness in their industry for the ones that impact them the most.
“It’s not unusual for an organisation to take two days out of National Road Safety Week where they talk to their employees, and they also talk to their suppliers and contractors.”
Beyond National Road Safety Week
One of the many things that SARAH Group is incredibly proud of has been the creation of the yellow ribbon’s link to road safety.
“The yellow ribbon, and its symbolism, is now used by other organisations to say they’re road safety advocates. And that’s actually quite amazing for us,” Peter says. “Irrespective of National Road Safety Week, they’re now appearing on logistics, buses, individual cars, on police and emergency services vehicles across the nation.”
“What it’s become, and I think this is actually a really important thing, is moving billboards for road safety. So, while people won’t know any of the history – and that’s fine – they see the yellow ribbon and it reminds them that it’s about road safety. If they’re doing something wrong, it becomes a prompt to say, okay, am I speeding? Can I slow down a bit? If you’re distracted, get off your phone. I think that that’s become incredibly important.”
SARAH has also advocated for positive change for traffic management workers, cyclists and pedestrians, traffic controllers, road workers, along with police and emergency service workers attending incidents or pulling over motorists for infringements.
”We do a lot of work with traffic management now, both at the level of individual traffic management companies through to the Traffic Management Association of Australia, completely outside what would’ve been our traditional space,” Peter explains. “And that becomes part of us actively looking after all those who are vulnerable.”
“We do work with cycling bodies across the nation and, of course, the more vulnerable people — those who have become pedestrians – but that also includes our police and emergency services when they’re at a road crash, for instance. How do we ensure their safety is promoted? So that becomes, literally, our 365-days-a-year focus.”
Finding meaning in loss
Despite everything, Peter and his family still grapple with the tragic death of their daughter years after her passing. That’s part of the cruelty of road trauma – the loss, the terror and the grizzly realities of a road death never leaves you. All of this is compounded by the fact that each and every road death is avoidable.
It isn’t lost on Peter that the most traumatic experience of his life may also have led him to a higher purpose.
“I’ve had a number of different jobs over the course of my life,” he muses. “I’m an economist by training, but I started off in civil engineering. In fact, one of the very first courses I did back in 1977 involved the trade-off between a human life and a road building project. I think, how bizarre is my life? That was literally one of the first courses I did.”
“I had no idea then that I’d work in social justice and human rights,” he continues, “or that I would become an Assistant National Secretary on Social Justice to the Human Rights Commission. It’s very strange for me because, at one time, I used to brief ministers on national government policy and petrol pricing and all sorts of things. All those things I’ve done during the course of my life were like preparation for what I do every day now.”
“I think how strange it is that this dad — and, at the end of the day, I’m just a grieving dad — is trying to make a difference in an area I never wanted to be a part of. But the thing is that with my small contribution I can help be a voice for the victims of road trauma. This is the most important work I have ever done, and it’s worth listening to, because we can help drive change. By working together, we can drive change. It’s about getting people to recognise that this is avoidable and that we literally can make a difference.
As clichéd as it might sound, the lives of the Frazer family will, literally, never be the same again. If Peter and the people at SARAH Group have their way, this could be something that no other Australian or New Zealand family needs to experience.
You, your colleagues, and your organisation can commit to the National Road Safety Week Pledge here.
SG Fleet is a proud long-term supporter of National Road Safety Week. Start a conversation with SG Fleet today to keep your business moving safely.