One quick click can save a life

It's a message you see regularly on roadside signs and on the television - a simple click saves lives.

Had that split-second decision been made on a Friday night three weeks ago in rural South Canterbury, a wife might still have a husband and two young children a father.

Amid her grief, it is a message  Paul Dee’s widow, Julie, wants to reinforce in a national campaign.

As she sees it, she is in a privileged position to potentially help save other lives by getting people to change their thinking.

Mr Dee (46) was killed on April 28 in an ATV side-by-side buggy roll-over,  a stone’s throw from his Waihao Downs home, near Waimate.

Paul Dee. Photo: supplied
Paul Dee. Photo: supplied

Conditions were fine and still as he set off on the short trip home from the neighbours’ property  to his family on a flat road, after a happy community gathering that  ended in tragedy.He was an experienced operator but he did not put on his  seat belt.

"This, I’m told, cost him his life," Mrs Dee said this week.

The day after his funeral, a second ATV buggy roll-over on private property up the road from the Dee family’s house claimed the life of 31-year-old Ryan Stuart. Mrs Dee heard sirens twice in eight days.

She acknowledged there were mixed emotions about tackling the issue, saying it was ugly, raw and confronting.

But she realised she was in a "privileged" position to be able to affect people’s attitudes — to get them to stop and think about what was important to them.

And in that split-second, when they were frustrated or impatient about wearing a  seat belt, she hoped they would think about Mr Dee and his family and think about getting home  safely.

"If I can do that, then that’s an amazing thing to come out of a really awful thing."

The couple’s children, Connor (7) and Erin (5), were also passionate about the safety message, she said.

"If he [Paul] had been wearing his  seat belt, the chances are very, very good that he wouldn’t have died.

"He  would give anything to be here for his family because everybody that knew Paul knew how much his whole life revolved around his family.

"I feel if he was here, he would agree that this is really important because this is about getting more people home to their families."

She had received "amazing" feedback from many people thanking her for starting a discussion around their kitchen table.

"We’ve all been complacent. That is my word, if you like," she said.

Flowers at the site of the crash. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Flowers at the site of the crash. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Earlier this week, Mrs Dee addressed North Otago Federated Farmers’ annual meeting, saying her aim was to change the  farm safety culture from one of not just compliance "but to one of being more aware of getting men and women home safely every night".

Mrs Dee  asked those attending to always wear  seat belts for every trip, not matter how short, and to spread that message.

At the Dairy Women’s Network conference in Queenstown last week, she spoke to Duncan Faulkner, the co-developer of health and safety app, saying to him "I’m the why, you’re the how".

Mrs Dee has many safety questions  about ATV side-by-side buggy handling,  including whether more research is needed.

Scottish-born Mrs Dee came to New Zealand originally for a working year, travelling around and doing various jobs.

Living on a farm near Waimate, the keen horsewoman was introduced to hunting and she met her future husband at the Waimate Hunt ball in 2004.

The couple were sharemilkers for many years, employing up to eight staff, and they had a "safe culture" on their farms. There were no serious accidents involving quad bikes or buggies.

"Nobody drove around harum-scarum because they’d get sorted out if they did," Mrs Dee said.

When the couple first bought a side-by-side buggy — not the one Mr Dee was driving when he crashed — they thought it was a safer choice.

They wanted to safely take passengers to do certain jobs on the farm and quad bikes were not designed for passengers, while farm utes would slip on the cow lanes, lose traction and slide.

"We invested significant money in our choice of vehicle, thinking it was the safest option, and it justified the extra spending because it costs a lot more. I think many people are making similar assumptions."

Mr Dee had identified the extreme risks on the Waihao Downs farm that he worked, such as the steep hills. But maybe something she could help with was to heighten the perception of risks in other areas "where you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be", she said.

Mrs Dee was not sure where she got her strength from, but was  driven by a  strong sense of what was right.

"I obviously have low moments and, when I do, I allow myself to grieve. My kids are my teachers. They allow themselves to be sad and then they re-engage with their everyday life and their friends and the things that give them joy.

"I’m improvising a minute at a time. The things that used to scare me, don’t scare me ... because after you’ve lost your husband ... anything else is like so small."

As well as her safety crusade, there was another message Mrs Dee wanted to share with the wider public: "Paul was very passionate about family time and living life and saw more value in the gift of time than any of us ... now that we’ve lost him, those memories are so precious.

"It’s such an important message: just before you’re maybe not going to put your seat belt on, think of us.

"Schedule in some time to do something with your family or the people that are special to you, because we’re so glad that we did."

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