'I have seen men lose their best mates'
Blackspots: The real toll of NZ's roads
I have grown up at the foot of a deadly alpine pass, a stretch of road with no cellphone coverage. The nearest hospital is more than two hours away. The nearest ambulance is an hour away at the very least.
I have seen tragedy many times and often it has been avoidable.
A woman taking a corner too fast ends up 30 metres down a bank. A truck driver underestimating the icy road ends up wedged against a road barrier. A packed van spins out of control on a straight and into a shallow river.
I have seen men lose their best mates. I have seen families come together as their loved one is taken away in a helicopter. I have also seen people I know personally pass away because of an ill-fated decision.
I'm a firefighter and my local brigade attends many car crashes throughout the year, most of which are life-changing for the people involved.
Saying that the road toll is at a record low is an insult to the families that have been affected by motor vehicle accidents.
I think many people forget that if you survive the initial crash you're not out of the woods. Most seriously or critically injured people spend months in hospital recovering, their own lives changed forever.
And we, the firefighters, are effected too.
We are not just the high visibility-overall, helmet-wearing strangers that wave you through an accident scene.
We have to deal with screaming patients, injured children and people who haven't made it despite our best efforts. This does take an emotional toll on us and the question has to then be asked, how could this have been avoided? A large majority of accidents that occur in this area involve tourists.
They lack knowledge of road safety and basic road rules - which side of the road to drive on, what the speed limits are and when it is safe to overtake.
I believe most car accidents have a root cause of lack of knowledge.
Tourists should take basic road-rule tests on entry to our country. It's a costly idea, but at the end of the day, you can replace a car but you can't replace a life.
There also needs to be more information available to the public and pushed on young people, like myself, when we take our driver's licence test, about worst-case scenarios.
We need to be aware of the consequences of our mistakes, and not in a G-rated film way - in the cold hard reality way.
So often I am disturbed and shocked by the behaviour of onlookers. It's common to see nosy people taking photos of car crashes with victims still inside. We often have motorists trying to speed past accident zones in an attempt to save a few seconds off their journey, endangering the lives of firefighters on scene.
I have been yelled at by complete strangers at accident traffic stops because of impatience and ignorance of the scene around them. This is the reality.
For the people who are in a rush to get to their destination and are being held up at an accident, try to put yourself in the situation unfolding just down the road, try to think of others before worrying about being late for your haircut or flight. Have some humility and respect for the people who are just trying to help.
Patience is a virtue and it will never hurt you.
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