With Road Safety Week coming up, we asked first responders and emergency service workers to share a story of a motor accident that has particularly affected them. Our actions on the road have an enduring influence on people's lives.
Thanaa M, nurse
"One night, we had a call concerning three teenagers involved in a car accident. One of them was the driver, and according to him, he wasn’t drinking, but I assume his friends were. The driver hadn’t slowed down to take a corner and unfortunately crashed. The driver wasn’t badly hurt – a few fractures – but one of his friends had life-changing injuries.
"This friend was partially paralysed as a result, and he will need care for the rest of his life. It’s so sad to think that someone so young could have such debilitating injuries. His harmless decision to get into a car changed his life completely – it was the fault of the driver for going at a reckless speed on a bend. It’s very hard to see someone so young face injuries like that. Due to the nature of my work, I often have to tell the family that their child will never be the same again. It’s even worse when it’s not their child’s fault.
"I think the accident absolutely could’ve been prevented if the driver had just slowed down. I see reckless and careless driving so often. If people knew what the impact is on the victim and their family if you’re involved in one of these accidents, maybe they would slow down and wait a few seconds.
"These experiences linger with us as nurses because we see families of victims all the time, and we have to be there to support them. At the time, you want to be as strong as possible for the family, but when you go home, you sit down and think about it, and it hits you like a ton of bricks. After that incident, I remember thinking, I dealt with someone today who was only 17 or 18 years old, and now his life has changed forever. Coming home, all you want to do is give your children a massive hug and think, I hope that doesn’t happen to you."
Nick T, perfusionist
"When I was 23, I was working as a theatre practitioner specialising in trauma. It was a quiet winter night, and my trauma bleep when off. 'Female, 23, involved in serious RTA (road traffic accident) – ETA 20 minutes.' The woman arrived – pale, clammy to touch – yet she was sat up with a bewildering look on her face, as if she didn't really know what was going on. She had her makeup done, nails painted, was well-dressed, and clearly took pride in her appearance. But the injuries sustained to her lower regions were just horrific. She was quiet, calm, and utterly vacant, showing no distress.
"This is the reaction you get when someone is in shock, and it was truly dark and disturbing. I almost would have preferred her to be screaming in agony. Nearly all of her injuries were sustained on her legs. A protruding bone is a ghastly sight on a horror movie, but when you witness it firsthand, it's a sight that is hard to forget. There was no doubt in my mind that she'd never walk again.
"She was put to sleep and stabilised then transferred to a major trauma unit. I tried to follow up with what happened to the patient, which is quite difficult to do in my line of work. I asked one of the A&E doctors who went in the ambulance with her to a major trauma unit, and they told me both of her legs were amputated.
"I also found out how the accident happened. She’d got in a car with her boyfriend, and he was speeding and caused the accident, but the full impact of the crash was on her side of the car. He wasn’t even there at the hospital; he’d fled the scene, and the police were trying to find him, so he’d left her in that state of trauma and injury. She had nobody there with her. I just hope that she has a family around her to support her because those are the kind of injuries that tip people into depression and suicide.
"It’s most upsetting when the casualty is a passenger who was the byproduct of someone else’s stupidity. She’s left with life-changing injuries because of a moment of stupidity from someone else who couldn't even be bothered to stick around. She could’ve been telling him to slow down or stop being an idiot moments before it happened – you just don’t know."
Anon, former nurse
"I have many stories during my time as a nurse, but one of the worst ones to affect me was when a 17-year-old boy was brought into Resus, dead on arrival. His sister had asked him to get her a drink from a shop, and he was run over by a bus when he was crossing the road. He was dead on the scene and wasn't going to be brought to A&E initially. However, the family was notified about the accident and was on their way to the hospital, so the ambulance crew decided to bring him in so we could tell the family the news when they arrived.
"When they bought him in, I recognised him straight away. I didn't know him very well, and couldn't place where I knew him from, but I recognised his face. He didn't look too bad considering the mechanism of his injury, but he had a crushed chest and a head injury. His mother and sister then arrived, and we took them into a side room to tell them the news. It was awful. The mum started wailing and was sick in the sink. The boy's brothers arrived soon after, and that's when I realised where I recognised him from. I was 23 when this happened, so I was young, and the brothers were people I knew from the local nightclub where I used to go as a student nurse. I had even gone out for dinner with them before. I remember thinking, Oh god, now I have to show you your dead brother, and it was absolutely awful.
"I felt particularly sorry for the oldest brother, as he was estranged from the family, and they hadn't spoken to him for months. His girlfriend refused to come to the hospital to support him, so I found myself being that support to him. I sat out in the car park with him, letting him talk to me and cry for hours, trying to be as strong as possible for him. This was many years ago, but I remember it as an experience I never want to have again."
Jatinder R, retired nurse
"I'm retired now, but I worked as a trauma nurse for over 37 years. I have seen many things over the years, but one story I do recall is of a hit-and-run incident that came in one night. The victim was a middle-aged man, but he didn’t have any ID on him, so he came to us as 'Unknown'. It’s always so difficult when that happens. Working as a nurse in trauma, we often don’t know the background to the story or how something happened; it’s like we get put into the story halfway through.
"When a person comes in, you give the police as much information as you can so they can find and contact their relatives. Somebody somewhere is worrying about that person and doesn't know where they are. Hit-and-runs like this one always made me quite emotional because they can happen to anyone in a split second, and it could've easily been my relative or friend on that table.
"In this case, the person who caused the accident didn’t even have the decency to stop and report it because they were just worried about saving themselves. That is heartbreaking for the patient to know, and it made me so angry to think that the driver was so callous. I'd see pedestrians and cyclists come in all the time, so many due to reckless drivers, and you'd be shocked to know how many drivers do a disappearing act. Eventually the casualty was identified, and the family was contacted. By this time, the person had left my department and moved onto the intensive care unit, so I never know what happened to him."
Sid Conti, retired police officer
"I was only 23 or 24 years old when this incident happened, so I was relatively new within the police force. I got a call that sent an absolute shiver down my spine: a two-car RTA (road traffic accident). A very small and frail elderly woman had been visiting her family, and the driver of the other car involved was an off-duty police officer. They collided on a three-way carriageway. Cars in those days didn’t have airbags and crumple zones, so the damage was so much worse than what you usually see today. It was just a horrific mess.
"As you approach the scene to an accident like this, your mind races as you plan out all the things you’re going to do, and you just hope you’re the second car there. You don’t want to be first on the scene and alone. I turned up to a great scene of devastation. The wheels were still spinning on one of the cars, and its doors were open. If anyone is screaming, you know they’re alive. Neither person is this incident was screaming.
"I went to the woman first. She didn’t have her seatbelt on, so the injuries were really severe. They were so bad that I thought, She has got to be dead.
"I climbed down a ditch to get to the driver of the other car. There’s wasn’t a mark on the guy, but he’d hit his head so hard that it instantly killed him, I think. I knew that I had to leave him because I couldn’t do anything for him and went back to the woman to check her. Lo and behold, the woman had a pulse. I couldn’t believe it.
"After what seemed like an eternity, the ambulance dispatched. I stayed waiting by the woman, and I felt so lonely and very, very vulnerable. I thought, People are looking at me, and I can’t do anything. I remember feeling sick to my stomach. I think in my heart I knew she was going to die.
"I was so relieved when the ambulance turned up. They set out the cones, and I told the crew the female victim still had a pulse. While they were initially examining her, that’s when she died. What really got to me was seeing her personal belongings in her car: letters, a handbag, and coins. One of those things was a little round tin that had a note on it that said 'To Nana, Merry Christmas', and there were the names of three people – her grandkids, I think. Inside was a Christmas cake they’d made for her.
"Incidents like that, you end up carrying them for a long time. I mean, it’s 40 years later, and I’m still talking about it. I wish people could see the devastation an accident can cause because if they knew, they'd stop being so careless on the road. People cause accidents. A split second can take you from listening to the radio to having your whole life turned upside down."
The actions you take on the road can alter the lives of so many people – and not just those directly involved in incidents. Aviva is a proud sponsor of Road Safety Week and is urging motorists to change their driving habits by making the Brake pledge to help to make our roads safer.
Images © Ben Armson / BuzzFeed