STRONG MESSAGE Ann Flynn holds up a set of keys while addressing the 1,600 Transition Years at the Road Safety Roadshow. Pic: Michael Donnelly
Over 1,600 Transition Year students from all across the county attended the annual Mayo County Council/AXA Road Safety Roadshow at the Breaffy House Conference Centre, Castlebar last Thursday afternoon.
The roadshow aimed to present the reality of a road traffic accident through a combination of video recreations and speakers from the emergency services. Through the course of the event, graphic video recreations and intermittent speakers from the emergency services explained the impact on families and the step by step formalities and precautions that members of the emergency services took on the night of a particular crash in county Mayo. The crash involved a young man and his girlfriend and involved speed.
The event focused on relaying a strong message to the students about the impact of a road traffic accident. Throughout the show, students had the opportunity to benefit from presentations made by by An Garda Síochána (Garda Hugh McHugh of Castlebar Garda Station), Ambulance Service (Mr Brian Moran), Fire Service (Mr Pete McDonnell), an orthopedic and trauma consultant based within A&E Department in Mayo University Hospital (Mr Paul O’Grady), a family member of a deceased road traffic accident victim (Mrs Ann Flynn) and a car crash survivor (Richard Alcorn).
To kick off proceedings, the host Alan Murphy, Ballinrobe native and DJ with Galway Bay FM, relayed the facts and figures regarding fatalities on Irish roads in 2018 and the frightening number of fatalities that have occurred in January 2019 alone (16). Numbers such as these only tell a fraction of the story, he said, as they mask the devastating impact on the families and friends involved.
First to speak was Garda Hugh McHugh as he gave an account of his thoughts prior to, and his duties once he reached the accident.
“When I get a call like this, I always find myself with the same feeling of dread, especially when I hear the words ‘single vehicle collision’ and ‘serious injuries’. It brings back the memories of all the scenes that I have attended before. After reaching the scene of the accident, it’s up to me to piece together what went wrong, but first I must try to identify the people in the car and who to break this terrible news to, as its rarely good news when a Garda calls to your door in the middle of the night,” Garda McHugh explained.
Next speaker on the stage was ambulance worker Brian Moran who likewise spoke abut his role upon reaching the scene.
“As I arrived on the scene, I saw a body of a young girl. I stepped down to check her out, she was not breathing, she had no pulse, she was beyond help, she was dead. As I left her to tend to the driver, a mobile phone near her rang. I glanced at the screen, her dad was calling her, oh my god, he didn’t know yet, he’d never talk to his little girl again.”
“The strangest thing about this particular shift was that it started on a high. For the first time in a long time we had a baby delivered in the ambulance. It’s always magical to see new life coming into the world - but it’s in stark contrast to life lost on our roads.”
Graphic video presentation
After a graphic video representation, Pete McDonnell of Castlebar Fire Brigade took to the stage, describing his thought process and reasoning behind their decisions and actions. These include scene safety, a dynamic risk assessment and the challenge of getting the injured person out of the car depending on the particular circumstances.
Orthopedic and trauma consultant Paul O’Grady was next to speak on stage. He recalls the night of the crash, being called in at 3am, preparing for the worst and concerned about the patient’s lack of feeling in his legs and the amount of blood lost from his body. Before concluding his speech, graphic images were shown on screen to outline the seriousness of other car injuries he has previously experienced. One image in particular looked at a 17-year-old biker’s thigh bone which had burst through the upper part of his leg. This image caused multiple students throughout the hall to pass out due to the graphic nature of the injury. It showed the realness of an injury which was caused from driving too fast and it certainly left an impact on the students that were attendance.
The second part of the show saw two speakers who have been directly affected by a road accident talk about their experiences and advising the students to drive safely, adhering to speed limits and to drive with cation.
The first of these speakers was car crash survivor Richard Alcorn from Donegal, who was left wheelchair bound, an amputated right arm and countless surgeries after his two-car collision in February 2006. Richard spoke about life after the accident and how it affected himself and those around him. He encouraged students to take up driving as it allows you to go anywhere and experience a lot but he also asked them to have ‘a bit of sense and concentrate’. To conclude his speech, Richard asked the audience to stand up and give a round of applause for everybody from the emergency services who spoken and for the lady who was going to speak next. After the applause, Richard said: “The two things I just asked you to do there was stand up and clap, I can do neither of them, remember that.”
The final person to take the stage was Anne Flynn, a mother from Ardagh, who lost her 23-year-old son Niall in a single vehicle collision near Ballina on September 7, 2011. Mrs Flynn described the traumatic events of losing a son in a car accident and the difficulty of picking up the phone to tell the rest of the family and friends.
“We went through the Mass, the burial, the first few months, the first birthday, the first anniversary. Niall is seven years gone, but let me tell you, each year is equally as hard. People say time heels, no it doesn’t, time just makes you better at hiding, better at saying I’m fine.”
“Driving is brilliant, it opens up a whole new world for you, it gives you freedom like you never knew in your life, but as Fr Gallagher said last week in Donegal, when you put your foot on that accelerator, that is a loaded weapon and the higher the power, the more carnage you can cause. While you might fight with your siblings, disagree with your parents and think they’re the worst in the world, your parents, siblings and family love you very much and it’s an unconditional love. Don’t ever take that for granted and put them through the pain of losing somebody in a car accident, where they can’t see you achieve all you want to do in your lives.
“My last message to you is: When you take these, (holding up car keys), remember life is fragile, life is precious, you are unique, you cannot be replaced.”