Road safety: An all year round issue
During UK Road Safety Week, long-term Brake supporter Jeremy Williamson delivered interactive road safety talks to secondary schools. Here, he reflects on his own experiences and why, for him, road safety is an important topic all year round
Road safety was something that hadn't really crossed my mind when I was learning to drive. There were clear goals in the young driver journey. Get some lessons as cheaply as possible, have as few as possible, compete with friends as to who had the least, and cajole your instructor to put you in for a test date ASAP.
Despite failing first time, I passed my test just 10 weeks after my 17th birthday. I was delighted. Suddenly I was driving to school and was very popular.
The A-level results day fast approached and someone had the idea of going away to 'celebrate' the outcomes. This seemed like a brilliant idea and just what was needed. After all, we were all heading off into the big wide world of jobs, apprenticeships and university.
For me, I already had a job offer on the table and had a tough decision to make in terms of our celebratory trip as my new job wanted an immediate start. After much soul searching I decided not to go on the trip, thinking there would be plenty more occasions when I might be better able to afford some fun with the lads.
One week later, three out of the four of my friends who went away on that 'celebration' were dead, killed in a car crash. The driver and I had known each other since day one – literally. Our mums had been in next-door beds at the maternity ward, and we had gone through school together ever since.
I can't describe what it was like to attend the funerals of three of my best friends, on consecutive days, including their own and my birthday.
Once I got a bit older, I wanted a career that was exciting, physically and mentally demanding, and that would allow me to give something back. When I passed selection for the fire service, I was pleased to finally be doing a job that had everything I wanted. Nowadays firefighters go to more road traffic collisions (RTCs) than fires. I have witnessed the devastation first hand, and have attended literally hundreds of RTCs.
Sometimes I have attended crashes that brought back memories of my friends because it was the same car or the same age group involved. I always try and think that no matter how bad the crash – it has already happened. I am just there to make it better and get the best outcome possible, however bad the scene in front of me may be.
Then, one Easter Sunday I was just starting a shift when I took a phone call. The caller ID showed that it was from my parents' house; and then a police officer introduced himself. I immediately thought that they must have had a break-in and then the voice began to say, "Can you come to your parents' house? I am afraid that we have some news about your brother. He's been involved in a crash."
I don't really remember much else; I just knew that I had to get to my parents' house. My brother's car had struck a tree on a rural road and he had been found by a jogger. He had suffered trauma to the chest from not wearing a seatbelt and had died on the way to hospital.
A few months on I decided that if I could save one person from going through what I had, or I could cause one person to change their attitude towards driving, then I should do everything possible to do so.
After a couple of promotions I found that I could have some impact on RTCs and road safety education and started going into schools to deliver some initiatives that were around at the time. I was asked to consider a 12-month secondment to the local council's Road Safety Team as part of a partnership initiative. This was eye-opening and was a brilliant opportunity to see what else was out there in terms of road safety education initiatives, charities, funding and opportunities.
I wrote my own presentations and had some humbling feedback. I had parents of youngsters killed in RTCs attending some of the sessions and lending their support.
When the council contract ended, I continued educating young people by setting up a social enterprise and had some great local success stories working with schools and colleges.
Although I now spend most of my time trying to educate young drivers through my own business, e-merge safer drivers, I continue to go into schools and colleges when I can, promoting key road safety messages and Brake's resources.