Road toll is more than mere numbers

MICHAEL CUMMINGS
Last updated 12:00 30/12/2013

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OPINION: Road safety never gets more public attention than it does during the summer holiday period.

Naturally, there are more people hitting the highways for their favourite holiday spot and the risks associated with extra traffic on the roads are obvious. Throw in a touch of impatience or driver fatigue, and getting from one place to another in a motor vehicle becomes an unmistakably more life-threatening exercise.

And that's not the only factor helping focus attention on what's happening on the nation's roads. With little else happening in the world, the news media gives more attention to road smashes than they typically would at other times of the year. Newspapers and TV and radio broadcasts still need to be populated with the happenings of the day, and a car crash that might only have received a passing mention in June can be front-page news in January.

Some might see the increased public attention, regardless of the reasons for it, as unwarranted, perhaps even somewhat ghoulish.

Those people should read the story in today's Manawatu Standard about what Jesse Laing and his family are going through. With his brother seriously injured in Wellington Hospital after being involved in a crash near Palmerston North last week, Mr Laing articulates the harrowing toll that road smashes can take not only on those killed or injured, but on their entire family.

"You just know that his life and our lives have all changed forever," he said.

"Somebody just doesn't go through something like this and just bounce back the same old person that they were."

Stories like Mr Laing's should remind us that travelling in a motor vehicle is the most dangerous thing that virtually all of us do regularly. When it goes wrong, as it so easily can, the human toll can be huge.

Often, the far-reaching effects of road accidents are lost in the official road toll. It's forgotten in the desperate push to have fewer deaths than last year, last month, the previous long weekend, whenever. People are reduced to a number. Worse, those who are merely maimed for life, and those who care for them, are reduced to nothing at all.

The sad reality is that for too many people, until they've walked a mile in Mr Laing's shoes his story is just that - a story.

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- Manawatu Standard

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