How one Irish woman saved so many lives on Irish roads throughout her lifetime
* Our Road Safety Authority expert pays tribute to the selfless work of the late Gertie Shields
Published 12/08/2015 | 02:30
One of the most humbling experiences I have from time to time is to speak to the families of those who have lost their lives or been seriously injured as a result of a road accident.
Sometimes, it's a phone call, like the one I received this week from a mother who was very upset at a sentence passed down on a driver, which she felt was too lenient.
The case wasn't related to her own circumstances but after hearing about it she felt it was an insult to her child and others who have been left to live with terrible injuries following a crash.
Other times it may be working closely with a mother, father, brother or sister who had decided to publicly tell the story of their family member as part of a road safety campaign.
Naturally, it can be difficult and emotionally draining for them to recount such a traumatic moment in their lives.
There are tears.
They do it in the hope that others might be spared the grief their family has suffered.
Or because they want something positive to come from something so destructive, that their loved one's death wasn't in vain.
Often the phone call, or the decision to become part of a campaign, is to bring about change.
Change in attitudes, behaviour, or maybe the law.
These people are among the most courageous and inspiring in this country.
So it was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of one of these courageous people recently - road safety campaigner Gertie Shields.
Gertie, the founder of Mothers Against Drink Driving (MADD), was one of the most ardent and tenacious campaigners for road safety since the 1980s when she lost her 19-year-old daughter Paula in a road traffic collision caused by a drink driver.
Gertie spoke out about the culture of drink-driving in this country at a time when it wasn't popular to do so.
Hers was a lone voice in road safety at a time when more than 400 people were dying on our roads every year.
She took her message to the airwaves and newspapers around the country and across generations.
She campaigned relentlessly to change attitudes to drink driving and through her sustained lobbying of government, achieved extraordinary changes in road safety legislation and social change.
To look back now on her ideas and recommendations in the early years of Mothers Against Drink Driving is to see many of the measures that have, at last, been introduced in recent years.
Gertie worked tirelessly to ensure no other families endured the devastation caused by the loss of her daughter Paula.
She also sowed the seeds that would eventually bring about a change in public attitudes to this anti-social behaviour.
To suffer such tragedy as Gertie did, and to be able to harness that grief so that others wouldn't suffer the same, required a strength of character beyond measure.
There are many who may not have known Gertie, or have been aware of just how much she contributed to the safer roads we enjoy today.
The true measure of what she achieved is the many people who are alive and unhurt today because of her work.
She was one of the first true champions of road safety in this country.
And for that we will be forever grateful.
The RSA was greatly honoured to present Gertie with the Supreme Award at the 2013 Leading Lights in Road Safety event in recognition of her enormous contribution down through so many years.
We all owe a huge debt to Gertie - and all those who share their personal stories selflessly and publicly so that others could be protected from similar tragedies.