In my chaplaincy role I visit a young man in jail monthly. This is what he wrote.
As young adults, most of us tend to cruise around in cars with the music blaring; not having a care in the world; but what a lot of us tend to forget is that as drivers we have a responsibility to protect others either in our cars or on the road. The sad thing is that it normally takes a tragedy to make us realise the dangers lurking behind the wheel.
Let me reflect back on an incident that happened in my life that not only changed things for me but for many others as well. I hope I can be understood so that somehow I redirect your thinking on the dangers we face everyday on the roads.
One evening a couple of female friends of mine my cousin Luke and I were sitting around my place having a couple of quiet drinks, dancing and carrying on. Another friend of mine Jerry called and asked in would like to join him for a cruise down the lively Chapel St. As we hadn't had much planned it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Later Jerry arrived with a couple of mates. Luke, one of the girls and I travelled in my car while all the others went in Jerry's. As I had been drinking, the safest option was to let Luke drive, as he hadn't touched a drink yet. When we finally arrived at Chapel St I was well and truly due for a much needed toilet stop. Whilst in the toilet Luke was playing the stereo without the engine running; so the obvious happened! The battery-drained which as you could imagine-made me rather frustrated having to haul over every passing vehicle to see if they had a set of jumper leads. Finally after getting the car started, I realised it was a while between drinks and that I was all right to drive as I was no longer under the influence.
Then we headed for St Kilda foreshore to kick back and enjoy the view. After a while the girls seemed uncomfortable travelling around with people they didn't know and asked if they could travel home with me. I thought I would head off via the city and show the girls a couple of Melbourne's main night attractions.
Once leaving the city and heading for home I was cruising with the stereo pumping and thinking how good it was to have a car load of young ladies when I suddenly looked up and saw a taxi in front of me and then dead silence! I had awoken on the ground to a friend kicking me in an upset and distraught manner. I wasn't sure in was dreaming or not as I didn't know exactly what had_ROne-911-_at!his staKe, although I do remember calling out for Cuke-because I needed to feel same sort of security.
Ambulances and police sirens were heard kilo metres away and I knew at that point it was serious. Once the ambulance drivers arrived and assessed the scene, separate ambulances took us all too different hospitals. When in the care of the paramedics I was told that a young girl had lost her life. Immediately I started panicking and just laid there not wanting to wake up. I felt that too many lives were about to be turned into turmoil and chaos.
I arrived at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where I was tested for drugs, alcohol, injuries and shock, which is routine in any major car accident. I was diagnosed with bruising of the lungs and broken ribs. I was released from hospital three days later, to face reality.
As a life had been tragically taken, I decided to live for all the right reasons, trying to enjoy life and not take it for granted. But life became quite hard for my family and me. We had people making threats against us expressing that they wanted revenge, people calling me a murderer and prank callers at all hours of the night, which was just making our lives pretty unsettled. My mother began not sleeping and losing weight while Dad began drinking quite heavily allowing his daily diet to consist of beer and spirits. Somehow we were all dealing with it in our own way. Eventually things settled down a little allowing us to get on with our lives. But we still never lost sight that a young girl had lost her life and her family were suffering greatly. There still isn't a moment in the day when she doesn't enter my thoughts and I imagine it will remain that way for the rest of my life.
It had been over 12 months since the accident and I had tried to turn my life around and get back on track only to receive more bad news. I was charged with culpable driving and looking at a long jail term. The court day had finally arrived and still even after a period of nearly two years neither family could make eye contact. There was a real feeling of hatred in the courtroom and no-one could really direct it at anyone in particular. It sort of felt like a defence mechanism for both families defending their loves ones. "Man what have I done?" I thought to myself; I didn't mean for any of this to happen.
But as much as it was an accident, a jail term inevitably had to happen. I was eventually sentenced to three years jail and taken away while my family could only sit there in tears wondering when would be the next time they would see me. I do understand the penalty given, as it's to ensure that justice is served and to help the young girl's family feel that their daughter's death didn't go unrecognised. But is jail the best solution for culpable driving offences? It's supposed to be a deterrent for the community to learn from, but really all jail does is punish the convicted and their families, by separating them at times of need.
You see the sad thing about a fatal car accident is that not only a life has been taken, but it has a traumatic effect on everybody and anybody associated with the people involved. There are no winners; unfortunately everybody is a victim in some form or another.
I believe I have had a major effect on those associated with me in that they now respect the roads. It's amazing how many of us aren't aware that we are driving around in metal coffins. Somehow I feel that I have given a little back to the
community by helping my friends and others understand the dangers of the road and maybe if by my future actions I could save just one life, then something good might come out of this shameful tragedy.
But that's not to say it's all good; actually not at all. So before you decide to go cruising around with a car load of your mates, the stereo blasting and thinking life's pretty cool, remember you have a responsibility to everyone on the roads. As you are now aware that if you do the wrong thing and a life is taken you're going to waste away in a jail cell contemplating "If Only".