In Memoriam.

One death on WA roads, is one death too many.

‘WA drivers’

A phrase we’re all quite accustomed to declaring with a roll of the eyes, a label that we use to distance ourselves from everyone else who can’t indicate, merge or keep up with the speed limits on WA roads.

It is often a light and dismissive statement made before continuing with our day without a second thought.

But the effect of road trauma on families is real.

According to the Road Safety Commission, as of the 20 May there have been 70 deaths on WA roads so far in 2019 – that's 31 on metropolitan roads and 39 on regional roads. Every four hours someone is killed or seriously injured.

Ali and her son Ethan. Photo: Portia Gerbauer

Ali and her son Ethan. Photo: Portia Gerbauer

Alison has personalised her prosthetic leg with a unicorn print across the top. A blessing is the collective noun for a group of unicorns and also a fitting description for the way she sees her leg. Photo: Portia Gerbauer

Alison has personalised her prosthetic leg with a unicorn print across the top. A blessing is the collective noun for a group of unicorns and also a fitting description for the way she sees her leg. Photo: Portia Gerbauer

Photo: Portia Gerbauer

Photo: Portia Gerbauer

Ali knows better than most the enduring trauma ‘WA drivers’ can have on a family.

The effect that a momentary glance down to change a song on Spotify, or text to let a friend know that you’re five minutes away.

“A two-second look at your phone is never two seconds”

“I’d like to hope people will stop and get the message, but I still just don’t know.”

A pregnant Ali was knocked from her scooter and thrown 25m in the air by a distracted driver.

Her baby, born five months later, was healthy, but her leg wasn’t the same. In 2016 she made the challenging decision to have it amputated.

“I was very angry to start off with. I’d look at my leg, angry with what they had done, and also that I couldn’t wear skirts any more,” she laughed.

“But with the help of my family and clinical psychologists, who reminded me there are women who have never been able to walk and are wheelchair-bound, I got through it.”

"Reflecting on her decision to replace her limb with a prosthetic leg, Ali is surprisingly upbeat about the replacement, even personalising her new leg with unicorn fabric at the top.

“A collective noun for unicorns is a blessing. I see my prosthetic leg as a blessing now that I have had my leg amputated,” she said.

Ali says she feels lucky to have a renewed passion for life. But the stories of other families affected by crashes don’t always end in the same way.

“People get shocked at how open I am about it all, upfront and jovial, but deep down it has had an impact,” Ali said.

“But if someone is on their phone I will curse and toot my horn and they’ll get a glare.

For Carolyn Armstrong and her family, every inch of their lives changed the day they lost their father in a crash caused by a driver falling asleep at the wheel.

“It is heartbreaking to think about the number of families that this, and every crash, affects,” she said.

“There were four cars that stopped after the crash. One driver who noticed he was slightly veering and weaving over the road wished he’d pulled up alongside him and beeped and woken him up.”

Carolyn's late father Wayne Armstrong. Photo: Portia Gebauer

Carolyn's late father Wayne Armstrong. Photo: Portia Gebauer

From the call that no family should ever have to receive to supporting her mum through not only losing her partner but watching it happen, the toll the crash has taken on their lives has been devastating.

“There is such a ripple effect, and crashes happen several times a day.”

When we hear stories of people affected by road trauma like Alison and Carolyn, we’re met with the chilling reality that one death or one crash on WA roads, is one incident too many.

In 2018 The West Australian conducted the Driver's Voice survey to allow drivers an opportunity to rant about what makes them angry on WA roads.

The survey spoke to almost 7,000 people.

Of this, the community said the biggest road safety concerns were drivers using their mobile phones while driving, drink driving, and not being able to merge correctly.

The result shows up the stark reality that our state driving record is far from squeaky clean.

One in four WA drivers had been injured in a crash, and one in seven people had lost someone close to them as a result of a crash.

One in five P-platers admitted having driven after drinking in the 12 months leading up to the survey.

More than half of WA drivers - 64 percent - believe mobile phone distractions are the biggest safety issues on the road, but 75 percent of us admit to touching our phone screen while behind the wheel. It seems we know the right thing to do but for some reason, this belief fails to translate into action.

Still, the post-campaign evaluation, conducted by Painted Dog Research, revealed that nine in 10 West Aussies agree that the action and accountability of drivers is key to the safety of all road users.

There’s a gap between wanting to do the right thing and actually doing it. Associate Professor Barbara Mullan says this gap isn’t surprising.

Professor Mullan works with the Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine Research group in the School of Psychology at Curtin University.

For over twenty years Barbara and her colleagues have studied this attitude, the behavioural gap and ways to close it.

“There’s an intention-behaviour gap. We intend to do the right thing, we believe it’s the right thing to do, we strongly want to… but then the reality is, we’re sitting in the car, the lights turn red, we’re bored, we take our phone, we start texting.”
Associate Professor Barbara Mullan

It is the same disconnect that exists between our intention to eat healthy and exercise more and our failure to do so.

“In real life, if you have fear on its own without some sort of self-efficacy, it’s just not going to work.” Barbara Mullan

So what can we do?

All sectors of the community play a role in this change. Government creates policy and generates funding, media shares stories and information, and motorists hold one another accountable – which means identifying where we fail to turn good intentions into good behaviour.

Laying our tragic driving record to rest starts with us all taking responsibility for those bad behaviours and seemingly insignificant lapses in attention.

How can WA drivers close the gap?

A fine, a crash, an injury: the consequences of phone distractions are pretty clear but the temptation and ease of touching the phone screen ‘just this one time’ always seems to drown our voice of reason.

So what prompts these negative behaviours?

Is it boredom at traffic lights? the notification ping? or the device staring you down from the passenger seat?

We’ve worked with Professor Mullan to come up with a few small things we can do to shift our behaviours.

Make it difficult

By making a behaviour difficult to do, there’s a higher likelihood we won’t do it.

Smoking has reduced in Australia, in part because it’s a difficult thing to do. Gone are the days where you could light up anywhere. These days, finding a suitable smoking area in a public place is a mission in itself.

If a device is your road safety kryptonite, try placing it in your handbag on the back seat behind the driver. These small additional barriers make something relatively simple, such as texting, that much more difficult to do.

Disable the prompts

Turning your phone to silent or to airplane mode for the duration of your drive will remove the sensory triggers. Out of sight, out of mind.

Make a plan B

After half a glass too many, the easier option is to get behind the wheel and attempt to get home fast in the vain hope you’ll avoid an RBT encampment. It’s only easy because you can’t fall back on a plan B.

Without a plan B, plan A is the plan you’ll likely choose. A little bit of planning can remove the need for any ‘in the moment’ decisions. A plan B means you’ll be better prepared to order an Uber and pick up your car up the next day.

It’s about the journey, not just the destination...

So you’re homeward bound from an extended weekend down south. The kids have finally settled, you’re three-quarters into the journey and you’re committed to making good time, why stop now?

If you haven’t made a plan to stop it's unlikely that you will stop and fewer stops may increase the chance of you getting drowsy at the wheel.

On your next journey make a plan for lunch breaks, coffee stops and rests. With a little pre-consideration, you’re less likely to veer from the plan.

Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

If you or someone you know has been affected by road trauma, contact Road Trauma Support WA on 1300 004 814.


Words: Jade Jurewicz and Luke Hendricks

Creative Direction: Luke Hendricks

Campaign Manager: Beverley da Silva

Photography: Portia Gebauer

This content was sponsored by the Road Safety Commission and created in partnership with Seven West Media WA.