‘Behind the wheel, you might as well be running around with a loaded pistol’
A major road safety campaign is being launched by Life After and a host of partner agencies to highlight dangers and responsibilities when on the road.
The move comes after a meeting hosted by Life After was arranged recently and attended by representatives from numerous statutory and road safety organisations and local politicians after it emerged that over 12 months there were almost 4,000 driving offences recorded in Derry & Strabane - the largest number of any Council district in NI.
Life After, in conjunction with numerous other agencies are now planning a whole range of events, including a take over of Guildhall Square for a day and a week-long programme during Road Safety Week in November.
Christopher Sherrard, who lost his father in 2016, set up Life After with his mother and brother after they found a lack of dedicated services to support families bereaved through road tragedies.
Together with fellow founder, local community worker Kathleen Bradley, they have grown the organisation from five families to 96 families today across Derry & Strabane, Omagh & Fermanagh and Causeway Coast and Glens Council areas. Christopher said supporting bereaved families is one of their two main aims, with the other being to promote safety on our roads.
“All our families help each other with logistical support, emotional and mental support, and then we also have a trauma counsellor. We are getting help from Councillors, MLAs, MPs and the mental health dept locally and we are building on that, but the other area was road safety problems. Our Council district had the highest number of driving offences recorded in NI and the majority were in relation to speeding and driving while using a mobile phone. It was so high we thought we need to do something to highlight something.
“We had a massive meeting with Colum Eastwood MP, representatives from each political party in the Council, Mayor Brian Tierney, who chaired it, Deputy Mayor Graham Warke, the Policing and Community Safety Partnership, City Centre manager Jim Roddy, PSNI Traffic Branch and Flow Team, three representatives from the Department for Infrastructure Roads Service, NI Fire & Rescue Service, Foyle & District Road Safety Committee and five families from Life After.
“We were basically looking for assistance - we are going to be holding a Road Safety programme for the whole week during November because in the city there is different things done by different groups but there is no structure or co-ordination so we are running a whole programme across schools, youth groups, community centres, providing COVID restrictions are lifted. During the week on the Saturday in Guildhall Square, we are hoping to get local communities youth groups etc involved in a big day and every agency department and group will have marquee promoting everything to do with road safety. We will hopefully have live music and events taking place. We are looking for Derry City & Strabane District Council to be a beacon for road safety. We lead everything else, we do Hallowe’en, we do good fleadhs all that stuff, but we don’t do road safety properly.
“We are also hoping to get round the local community centres to do coffee mornings, presentations about what we do and promote road safety from Omagh and Fermanagh right through to Causeway two to three Saturdays a month. In every community we have lost somebody on our roads.”
Everyone at the meeting has agreed to play a part in this newly co-ordinated approach, and will convene four times a year to assess progress and plan and also look at other issues such as bad junctions, problem parking outside schools and so on.
Christopher said too many families have been left devastated by road accidents and it was vital the safety message reaches as far and wide as possible. “I don’t think people fully understand when they get behind the wheel of a car what they could potentially do to a fellow member in their community, and we always say once you get behind the wheel of a car you might as well be running around with a loaded pistol, because a car is as dangeorus as a loaded gun.
“If we can get that message out to young boys and young girls who are just getting behind the wheel for the first time and hammering that home - you don’t want to be the person your mum and dad is looking at in a coffin and left in despair the rest of their lives because you are not here; You don’t want to be responsible for causing a crash, killing somebody and leaving a family in a terrible state.
Anyone seeking to get in touchwith Life After can do so via the Facebook page www.facebook.com/LifeAfterrtc