Appeal for great care on southern roads

Clutha-Taieri area response manager Senior Sergeant Al Dickie gets his message across at a checkpoint yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Clutha-Taieri area response manager Senior Sergeant Al Dickie gets his message across at a checkpoint yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Senior Southern policeman Al Dickie says all drivers must realise death and mutilation can be the result of their misjudgement.

A top policeman has made a heartfelt plea following the recent carnage on southern roads.

Senior Sergeant Al Dickie, the Clutha-Taieri area response manager, has seen plenty of crashes during his 36-year-police career and, says unfortunately, he is still seeing them.

This month, he has attended several serious road crashes, including co-ordinating the crash scene following the double fatality on the Southern Motorway in which a brother and sister died.

''The potential for fatals or serious crashes is there all the time,'' he told the Otago Daily Times this week.

Earlier in his career, he was dubbed ''Dr Death'' after attending so many multiple crashes in South Otago.

''I have seen so many of them, I think I can speak with authority.''

In a high impact crash, ''people die or sustain life-threatening injuries''.

''Passersby do what they can to comfort and maintain life in trying circumstances until help arrives - broken bodies, screams, blood and guts and sometimes mutilation.''

Emergency services - including volunteer firefighters and ambulance officers - are roused from their sleep while wondering on the way if ''they may know the victims''.

''Dead bodies, broken people in various states of pain and anguish and loved ones pleading for help when the troops arrive.

''Onlookers are becoming traumatised and this can extend to the emergency workers, with some opting to throw in the towel as these sights are not for them.''

Firefighters worked to extract people, then paramedics helped to stabilise patients before taking them to hospital, where doctors and nurses tried to save the victims while dealing with ''traumatised friends and family''.

''They all do such a great job in a determined and dedicated way, but some victims are simply a lost cause, due to their horrific injuries.''

Police also had the ''unsavoury task'' of informing family.

''My colleagues and I hate this duty - telling people their loved ones won't be coming home,'' he said.

''You try to plan how you are going to break the news and wonder how people will react, but every situation is different.''

Crashes also impacted on emergency services staff, especially when the victims were children of similar ages to their own.

Snr Sgt Dickie said it was hard to quantify just how many lives had been saved by police intervening in cases such as a drunk driver, a speeding motorist, someone not wearing a seat belt, or driving an unsafe vehicle.

''People say police are just revenue-gathering when out and about issuing infringements. Codswallop.''

Some drivers would have avoided a crash because of the timely intervention of the police - ''as much as you may have disliked being relieved of a few bob at the time''.

On the open road, there was only 3m between life and death. All motorists were ''potential killers'' if they exercised poor judgement, he said. Offenders faced disqualifications, fines or imprisonment, but the mental anguish of harming another person ''stays with you far longer''.

''If you have got a conscience, there will be depression, sleepless nights and general unhappiness and all because you exercised poor judgement.

''Hopefully, you will have learned one of life's hard lessons and will exercise greater care and consideration in the future or face a repeat of the heartache like all the others affected by your actions.''

Anyone who witnessed a driver making poor judgement should ''tell them to pull their head in or report other dangerous road users to the police ... it might just save a life or two'', Snr Sgt Dickie said.

''How will you feel if that vehicle goes on to kill and you did nothing to stop it?''

Young people should never encourage a driver to see how fast a vehicle could go or to drink and drive.

If the driver would not listen to a passenger's plea to slow down or stop, they should tell the driver they were going to vomit, he said.

''They [the driver] will soon stop as they do not like their pride and joy being messed up.''

He urged drivers not to exercise poor judgement, and for passengers to wear seat belts as ''people die without them - I've seen it''.

''A crash occurs and this is when you change many lives forever, including your own, if you survive. And sometimes it is better not to, when you see the long-term injuries sustained, with some ending up with absolutely no quality of life.''

''Road menaces come in all shapes, sizes and ages - not just the young. We all have a responsibility,'' he said.

-hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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