‘I was a menace on the road’

The Cast Stone

SHOCKING STATISTICS Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged five to 29 across the world.

The Cast Stone
Michael Gallagher

Last year 136 Irish families had their lives changed forever. In the blink of an eye, ordinary days and nights became the opening chapters of never-ending devastation. Deaths and injuries on our roads are a scourge, a curse that creates nothing but grief, regret and sorrow.
Sadly, many of us take little heed of the warnings to drive carefully, slow down or take more care. I certainly don’t. I know all about the terror experienced when friends or family lose their lives on the road and am a massive advocate for safer driving – but I don’t follow my own advice.
It seems I’m in good company in that regard. We all know how devastating road deaths are; we all know the tragedy and terror, yet many of us either drive too fast, too slow or without due care and attention.
These days, I look back at my driving as a younger man and shudder. I had no sense of danger, no sense of care and definitely no sense of impending death. At that time, I was going to live forever and couldn’t wait to get on with things.
I was a menace on the road, drinking and driving, speeding and sliding around the place. I’d play a match, go for pints and drive home. I’d go out at the weekend, have a skip of pints and drive home. I’d leave the pub, drive to a dancehall or nightclub and pass any vehicle I came upon. I didn’t care whether the road straight or curved, on a hill or in a dip – I just put the foot down and flew by.
Of course, it never crossed my mind that the car I was driving was a pea-tin on wheels. It was an old, old Toyota Starlet in such bad condition that my girlfriend, now my wife, would have to get into the passenger seat through the window rather than the door.
If we had crashed we would have been destroyed, but that never entered our heads. I was living at home in Ballycroy at that time while working in Allergan in Westport. I drove up every morning, but on one occasion the Starlet wouldn’t kick into life so I hopped into my dad’s car instead and shot off at speed.
I covered ground very quickly, but when I came around the turn under Mulranny Hotel there were sheep on the road. I instinctively went to avoid them and couldn’t hold the car on the road.
It was like a movie, everything slowed down and created a recording which still sometimes runs in my nightmares. The engine roared into the morning air with a scream of dismay as the wheels lost contact with the ground and spun wildly. Trees flew by within inches of my head and the noise of breaking branches and bending metal assaulted the senses.
The car dropped through the air and eventually came to rest on four wheels a long way below the hotel. My side of the car was somewhat untouched, but the passenger side was destroyed with the roof crushed to the footwell.
I should have been killed. I wasn’t. I didn’t learn from it. I still drive fast. Maybe, it’s because I’m always going somewhere – always searching for the next destination – never happy where I am.
Recent reports from the World Health Organisation throw up some startling facts which really grasped my soul this week. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged five to 29 across the world. Approximately 1.3 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. More than half of all road traffic deaths are among vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. Every year between 20 and 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries, with many incurring a disability as a result of their injury.
These are stunning numbers and bring the madness and mayhem into stark perspective. When one thinks that the vast majority of these deaths and injuries are preventable it makes it even worse.
I’m not sure how things can get better. In my view, government agencies bringing out shiny campaigns have little or no impact. We’ve heard it all before, and it slips past without making an impression.
I’m not sure what will stop the deaths and destruction, but I personally will drive safer from this day forward.