Road Safety Engagement: The Sacred Work of Sorrow

By Wendy Sarkissian

 Written for the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims,

19 November 2017

Probably our most significant road safety activism involved our contribution to the 2016 World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims (17 November). Lori Mooren and I held a media event at the Mt. Warning Hotel in Uki (the Uki pub) near the crash site to raise awareness that at least three people had died there and the road had not been repaired.

A couple from the local community attended our media conference. The woman was the driver of the second vehicle involved in a fatal crash in the same location, where six people were injured, including five children. After the speeches, we drove down Kyogle Road and friends attached a huge poster of Karl to a tree near the crash site.

It read, “My name is Karl. I died here. Please slow down.”

And I made another speech by the roadside, begging the municipality to use more sophisticated road planning approaches.[i]

Not all our road-safety activism was media-based. I wrote a lengthy request to the Coroner, detailing weaknesses in road safety protocols, management, and physical design issues and requested a coronial inquiry into Karl’s death. I wrote to several local politicians asking for support for the inquest and they, in turn, lobbied the Minister.

While the Coroner ultimately refused my request, I was grateful that he did fully investigate. And we prepared two academic articles detailing safety concerns with the road.[ii]

The importance of giving road trauma victims opportunities to advocate

These articles highlight the importance of giving road trauma victims opportunities to advocate for more action to improve road safety and identified the systemic fatal injury factors through a safe system lens, arguing that road authority complacency was the real killer in Karl’s case.

I was also responsible for three hard-hitting articles in the local press about safety problems with Kyogle Road.[iii]

What road safety managers may never understand about my advocacy is that the powerful force of the grief that Wendy, Kev and Lori feel is much stronger than their road, their “risk-management” strategies, or their budgets.

In speaking truth to power and shedding tears for Karl, we are “drinking the tears of the Earth” (as Francis Weller puts it[iv]).

We are expressing our grief with dignity.

References

[i] A video by Nicholas Curthoys of our media event, speeches and erecting our poster on the tree is at https://youtu.be/FyI5jNqqYdE.

[ii] See:  Mooren, L. & Sarkissian, W. (2017). “We need a louder road safety voice.” World Transport Policy and Practice, 22(4): 83-95. Retrieved from http://worldtransportjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/27th-Feb-opt.pdf ; Mooren, L. with Sarkissian, W.  (2017). “Tragic failure of a road system: an Australian example.” Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety, 28(1): 58-63. Retrieved from http://acrs.org.au/journals/february-2017-vol-28-no-1/

[iii] “Widow begs council to improve road safety,” Gold Coast Bulletin, 14 November 2016. http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/news/traffic-reports/tweed-shire-council-black-spot-funding-bittersweet-for-widow-of-man-killed-at-notorious-kyogle-rd-corner/news-story/cc0b701f0d57320dc049fc68024a57a8

Dwayne Grant, “Tweed Shire Council: Widow calls for inquest to address council ‘weaknesses’ on Uki road safety,” Gold Coast Bulletin 29 March 2017. http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/news/council/tweed-shire-council-widow-calls-for-inquest-to-address-council-weaknesses-on-uki-road-safety/news-story/6006c58ec5740a148b8a7c7b61b33109

Dwayne Grant, “Tweed Shire Council black spot funding ‘bittersweet’ for widow of man killed at notorious Kyogle Rd corner,” Gold Coast Bulletin, June 14, 2017 (http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/news/traffic-reports/tweed-shire-council-black-spot-funding-bittersweet-for-widow-of-man-killed-at-notorious-kyogle-rd-corner/news-story/cc0b701f0d57320dc049fc68024a57a8)

[iv] Weller, F. “Drinking the Tears of the Earth”: http://riteofpassagejourneys.org/resources/for-participants/drinking-the-tears-of-the-world-grief-as-deep-activism/at_download/file

 

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