Poor driving decisions can end  lives

IT'S the time of year when family comes first, holiday stress levels are high but everyone longs for the oasis in the year when work and overdue bills seem like a world away. Christmas Day is a special time worth living for, but we know already that some won't make it next year. The streets and highways have claimed 34 lives this year, with five deaths this month alone. There have also been 237 serious road injuries. Before the families hear the sad news, those charged with picking up the pieces - our emergency service workers - bear the brunt of it. Police reporter CAROLINE TANG spoke to three of them. This is their story.

``I DON'T care what happens to me now, because what I have done has destroyed my life,'' a parent said after realising that their driving killed their passenger - their own child.

Sergeant Nick Clark, of Northern road and public order services, recalls the devastation well.

He acknowledges the spirit of the child with a soft ``hello'' every time he passes that particular stretch of road, and wonders what the young person would have made of their life if they had survived.

``Inattention and fatigue resulted in a family's car running off the road and one of their children was killed,'' Sergeant Clark said.

``Their mistake had cost their child's life.''

The Launceston police officer has attended more than 60 fatalities in his 24 years in the force, most during his eight years as a crash investigator.

But the first road death Sergeant Clark saw has stayed with him.

It was Burnie, 1990; six months after he graduated from the police academy.

``The man was in his mid-20s, it was a single-car crash,'' he said.

``He was not wearing a seatbelt and had been ejected from his car on to the roadway.''

Sergeant Clark said it was strange how the vehicle ended up on a different side of the dual roadway from where the driver initially lost control.

He said his inexperience at the time made him wonder, but the crash investigator worked it out very quickly.

Intensive care paramedic David Thomas may not have been a crash investigator during his time as a policeman, but he has seen more deaths on our roads than most people would see in a lifetime.

Mr Thomas was a police officer for nine years and became a Launceston paramedic almost 10 years ago.

He has seen almost 20 fatalities across both careers.

``I have seen enough and I would be happy if I never saw another one,'' Mr Thomas said.

``I remember my first one as a police officer.''

It was at Rocherlea in 1996 and there was a collision between a car and a semi-trailer.

The driver of the car, a man, died at the scene.

Mr Thomas did not realise the crash was a fatal until he looked into the remains of the car.

``I saw gruesome injuries that no one should be subjected to,'' he said.

He also remembers the first death knock he did by himself as a police officer.

The fatality angered Mr Thomas, because it was an innocent, law-abiding driver who had been killed.

The crash happened more than a decade ago at Dilston.

He visited the woman's family and told her husband and children that she had died.

``As a police officer, this is one of the hardest things you have to do,'' Mr Thomas said.

``The lady was driving her car, and a person with a long list of convictions was driving wildly, got onto the wrong side of the road and smashed straight into her.

``He survived and I still remember her name.''

The man was jailed, but Mr Thomas said his sentence was far from enough.

A fatality he saw as a paramedic several years ago, also stirs his memory each time he passes the Kings Meadows Connector.

A young female driver had died in her car after a drag race.

``She had two male passengers; both walked away with no injuries,'' Mr Thomas said.

It is the job of SES volunteer Patrick McBride to remove the dead and injured who are trapped in their vehicles.

The most dramatic fatality the West Tamar unit manager has attended was a high-speed, single-vehicle crash this year.

Police estimated the car was travelling at 180 kilometres an hour.

The vehicle was on its roof after landing on an embankment.

Mr McBride helped to secure the vehicle and remove the deceased.

He said 2013 was a particularly busy year for volunteers attending road trauma incidents in the West Tamar SES area.

There have been 32 crashes so far, including three deaths.

A huge issue has been vehicle rollovers, with six this month alone.

``A vehicle will not roll over on a corner unless someone is going too fast,'' Mr McBride said.

``When people are travelling very quickly, if something goes wrong, things go wrong very fast.''

He joined his emergency service colleagues in imploring road users to take care this holiday season.

``Most of these incidents occur through poor judgment,'' Mr McBride said.

``Don't be in a hurry; chances are you might not get to the place you are going to.

``Take care and relax.

``Just concentrate on your driving.''

Tasmania Police will be part of the Australia and New Zealand-wide road safety blitz Operation Crossroads from today until January 3.

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