Cop’s view: Very few crashes are ‘accidents’
SINCE 2012, our office, along with several part-time crash investigators in regional areas, have been involved in the investigation of over 300 incidents which involved the deaths of too many innocent and not so innocent people, along with just as many seriously injured people.
Quite some time ago, the Queensland Police Service stopped referring to a traffic incident as 'an accident' as it was recognised that there are very few real accidents. They are generally the result of a person's actions and could have been avoided. I have investigated crashes where there has been the odd mechanical failure with a vehicle and there have been very few incidents caused by the conditions of the roadway or the environment, but they are very few and far between.
It is quite clear to me that the common denominator in the vast majority of my workload is caused by the person behind the wheel of the motor vehicle, motor cycle, pushbike, boat, or plane. I have seen very inexperienced and unlicensed people cause crashes. I have seen very drunk and drug affected people cause crashes, and I have seen very careless and inconsiderate people cause crashes. I have seen very cautious and careful people involved in serious incidents too, but they are usually just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place and time. Sometimes that's all it comes down to; were they lucky enough to survive or are they another statistic?
I have seen that the human body can take a fair old beating in a crash with some people making miraculous recoveries despite their injuries. But most of the time we see death and/or horrific injuries that people and their families suffer for the rest of their lives. I have held the hands of dying people trapped in wrecked vehicles and unsuccessfully performed CPR on others who didn't make it and wondered what I could have done better.
I have seen the damage that these crashes do to the people who aren't physically injured themselves - family members saying goodbye to their children, siblings and parents in circumstances where there are no words to comfort them or to explain how or why these tragedies have happened. I have sat down at too many kitchen tables and lounge rooms with family members and held their hands and had no words of comfort for them in those times.
I have sat down with my own staff and other police officers and talked about what we have seen and how we felt about doing our job. We have prosecuted offending drivers with some wins and some losses and been baffled by the way the justice system works and wondered what I could have done better.
I am continually amazed that people don't or won't take responsibility for their actions, whether that is failing to remain at the scene of a crash or telling blatant lies to avoid the truth to minimise their involvement in the incident. We are sometimes left to explain to the victims or their families why the person who caused their loved ones death hasn't been punished by the law.
I don't have all the answers and will definitely retire from this job not having all the answers, but my message to everyone who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle is to be considerate to other road users and obey the road rules. The road rules are there for a reason. If you are a passenger, hold your driver accountable for their actions and your safety.
The police always bang on about the Fatal Five - Speeding, Seat Belts, Fatigue, Drink and Drug Driving, and Distraction/Mobile phones. The simple reason is that all of these things kill people, no arguments at all from me and no sympathy from me if you are caught offending against any of these.
Why do we do it? We do our jobs to try and find the answers and be able to provide those answers to the victims and their families.
Do I get angry, frustrated, disappointed in what I see every day - probably! Do I need a hug sometimes - probably! Do you want to do my job - you probably don't! I would be happy to have no crash work to do but I know that is not likely to happen.
To the driving public, stay safe and look after yourselves, your passengers and other road users and most importantly, make sure you stay alive and be able to wake up every morning to spend at least another day with your loved ones.
Sergeant Ray Pimm is the officer in charge of the Forensic Crash Unit for Capricornia Police District.
Originally published as Cop's view: Very few crashes are 'accidents'