Life Motoring

Saturday 20 October 2018

Why we need to remember those who died or were injured on our roads

Brian Farrell of the RSA reveals a personal connection to today's World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims

Lives cut short: Dominic Wogan and Fiona O'Neill
Lives cut short: Dominic Wogan and Fiona O'Neill

On November 19 2001, Fiona O'Neill (21) and her 23-year-old boyfriend Dominic Wogan were preparing to travel to Australia. They had just left Drogheda town in Co. Louth and were on their way to visit their parents to collect their bags and bid them farewell, before they left for their year-long trip.

They were yards from home and waiting to make a right turn across the old Dublin to Belfast road at Tullyesker Hill when they were hit by a truck. Tragically, they never made it home. They died instantly.

I remember the crash. It dominated the headlines at the time. Two young people, about to embark on a new and exciting chapter in their lives, so tragically cut short. I can still vividly remember the footage that appeared on TV. The emergency services at the scene. It was utter carnage.

My family lives in Cork, but we are originally from Drogheda and I know the crash site well. An uncle of mine lives about a kilometre away. While their deaths drifted out of the headlines and public's consciousness, for their families the trauma of having to carry on without their loved ones was only just beginning. The pain never goes away. In fact, the loss is magnified at times throughout the year. At birthdays, Christmas, at the anniversary of their death.

Because of my close links to the town, the crash always stayed with me.

Fast forward about eight years. I receive a call from a man with an accent that I recognise all too well as being from my home town. Michael O'Neill was his name. The father of Fiona O'Neill. He was organising a Mass in the Augustinian Church in Drogheda to mark the just recently established UN World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Would I help maybe by coming to say a few words? It would be an honour, I told him.

World Day of Remembrance takes place on the third Sunday in November every year and this year has a particular poignancy for Michael. It takes place on the same date as the anniversary of Fiona and Dominic's deaths.

Speaking to Michael before the service, I discovered that he was a neighbour and school friend of my dad. It is so sad that it took such tragic circumstances for both our families to reconnect. I've become firm friends with Michael and we have worked together every year since then to mark World Day of Remembrance. A few years ago he helped us launch the national effort to raise awareness of the event and recorded a special radio message that was broadcast on national and local stations.

We all owe a huge debt to people like Michael who bravely bare their hearts and selflessly share their experience in public. All because they do not want other families to go through what they went through. World Day of Remembrance gives us all an opportunity to remember those who have died on our roads and the families, friends and communities who have been devastated by their loss.

Since 1959, a total of 24,100 people have died on our roads in tragic yet preventable circumstances. This is roughly the same as the population of Ennis, Co. Clare. We mustn't forget those who have been seriously injured either. Since we began recording serious injuries in 1977, a total of 79,752 people have been seriously injured on our roads. Behind every tragedy lies a traumatised family and community.

Today, Sunday November 19, World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, gives everyone an opportunity to remember those who have been killed or seriously injured on our roads, as well as the people left behind. It's also a time to recognise and thank those in the emergency services who have to deal with the consequences and the aftermath of collisions. They are also vulnerable road workers who expose themselves to danger every time they respond to an emergency on the road. They too have suffered tragedy while performing their public duty and we remember them too today.

The RSA along with An Garda Síochána, local authorities, emergency services and road safety victim support organisations have organised commemorative events and services in 14 counties around the country. A full list of the events is available on www.rsa.ie.

Fiona and Dominic's deaths were just two of the 411 deaths that happened in 2001. I'll be remembering them this Sunday. I'll also be thinking about another person who was killed in 2001 - Barry O'Flynn (27) who was knocked down while out walking. He was my brother's best friend.

I still have a cutting from the Sunday Independent's 'It Happens Every Day' series from 2001 on my wall. The newspaper decided that year to print a list of the names and some photographs of those killed to raise awareness of the unacceptably high death toll on Irish roads. Fiona, Dominic and Barry are on that list, a constant reminder to me that those killed on the roads are not faceless statistics.

Sunday Independent

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