Ep 21: Supporting Victims' families of Road Traffic Collision: IRVA’s hope for a time when serious injury and death due to road traffic collisions are a thing of the past.
9:19PM Sep 13, 2021
Shelli Ann Garland
Hello, and welcome to A Dash of SaLT. I'm Dr. Shelli Ann and I'm so glad you're here. Whether you stumbled upon this podcast by accident, or you're here because the subject drew you in welcome. SaLT is an acronym for society and learning today. This podcast was created as an outlet for inviting fresh discussions on sociology and learning theories that impact your world. Each episode includes a wide range of themes that focus on society in everyday learning, whether formal or informal. So let's get stuck in shall we.
Welcome to A Dash of SaLT. Today I'm joined by Donna price. Donna founded the Irish road victims Association IRVA in 2012, following the inquest into the sudden death of her 18 year old son Darren in a crash in March of 2006 and is chairperson of the organisation, the National charity for road crash victims in Ireland, IRVA provides free information and support including bereavement counselling and legal advice to victims and their families and assists families at every stage of guard investigations. coroner's inquests in civil and criminal legal proceedings. IRVA hosts an event to mark World Day of Remembrance for road victims every year, which is attended by hundreds of bereaved families from all over the country. Donna is founder and co chair of the International road victims partnership IRVP as a partnership of some 150 NGOs from all regions of the world, and a member of the UNRSC and ETSC. Additionally, Donna is also a board member of the Road Safety Authority in Ireland, recently reappointed by the Minister and serving a second term. Donna was the winner of the RSA ambassador of the Year for road safety leading light award in 2015. I'm delighted to have you on the podcast to talk to you about your work you do nationally and internationally, through the Irish road victims Association, as well as building and maintaining volunteer capacity within your charity. You're very welcome, Donna.
Thank you, Shelley. And thank you for inviting me onto your show.
So we're gonna start right off here. Um, can you tell us a little bit about a little background about yourself and some of your own experiences that prompted you to start the Irish road victims Association?
Well, I'm a mother of four children. And very sadly, on the 30th of March 2006, I got the telephone call that every parent dreads call from An Garda Siochana at the National Police Service here in Ireland, to tell me that my son had been involved in a fatal collision. Darren had left our home that morning, about seven o'clock in the morning, on his way to college,in Athlone, where it was an engineering student. And while on route to college, he was in a collision with a HTV and was killed instantly. And the news received that day really shattered our whole lives. My my other children were closer in age to Darren Darren was only 18 years of age, and his elder brother Mark was only 19. And my younger children were 14, and 11. And this was our first real experience of a death in the family. My own parents are still alive. So for that experience to be the death of your own child, it really did destroy, destroy me, I have to say it was like a grenade going off inside your whole being. So we were left then to pick up the pieces of our lives and try to carry on, you know, we have to be strong for my other children. Firstly, they were all in college and school. And I myself was studying law at the time in Dublin. And there was actually on rouge to college when I got the news in my car from the police service. It's every parent's worst nightmare. I not only had to deal with the sudden, violent and traumatic death of my own child in that crash, but also I was thrown in two dealing with the legal processes which followed. And I suppose that helps to really re traumatised us. I think that process lasted for six years. The inquest into my son's death. The coroner's inquest was six years later, in March 2012. And it was as a result of that experience. That I went on to set up the Irish road victims Association. Because I felt that during that six year period, there was no support for families. You You were you had to deal with the guardi and their investigation into the crash. And then you had to deal with the DPP and his deliberations as to whether or not there would be a criminal prosecution. And then finding that there was to be no prosecution into my, you know, of the driver eh responsible for my son's death. We then had the coroner's inquest, and that was a very restricted hearing, I thought that was going to be the public hearing. into my son's death, I thought all of the facts were going to be laid on the public record. But in fact, that wasn't the case at all. It was a very restricted hearing, into the where, when and how my son had lost his life. We knew that on day one, I shouldn't have had to wait six years to have that hearing. I knew that he had been killed in Terrell's Pass as a result of a road traffic collision on that day. And really, there was nothing else placed on the record the the investigation, I was told that the DPP had reviewed the file and so there was no need for us to go into the detail in the coroner's inquest. But those deliberations with the DPP are behind closed doors, and the families are very much on the periphery of that process. So during that six years, I was left wondering, tormented wondering what could have caused the collision in which my son lost his life. And I don't think that's fair. I think it helps to compound the grief of the bereaved. And so we're trying to change that in the Irish for victims Association, while providing support much needed support and information for the families who find themselves in the same position as I found myself in. And so yeah, the Irish road victims association was set up in 2012, following that inquest into my son's death. And we're still very active now and helping families who are similarly affected.
I can imagine that I can't imagine I should say, first of all, I, you know, I know that loss is never anything that, that lessens with time, and and I'm very sorry for your loss. But I, I can't imagine how hard that must be not to have to be able to feel like you have any type of closure whatsoever. You know, with that, and to, you know, to be refused the ability to, to have that look, or to have, you know, your own attorneys, you know, be able to kind of look over those types of things as well and have other people make decisions on the behalf of yourself and your family, in the death of your son. So I understand why, you know, it was so important for you to feel that there's other families that must be supported by, you know, something like this so that they don't have to go through the same experiences that you did.
Absolutely. And I felt I found myself out of time statute barred for instance, for for a civil case, you have to take the case within two years of the date of the crash, ehm I didn't know that there was nobody there to tell me. And so we were statute barred. And I think families still to this day, find themselves in that position. So unless they come in contact with our organisation, they're not aware, first of all of our existence, and we have to try and make sure that they are aware of our existence, and that they come to us speedily so that we're in a position to help them because once the coroner's inquest is over the Garda role is finished. And so you know, if, for instance, they want information regarding the investigation, it's too late. So we want the guardi to give the families the information, prior to the inquest, so that families are informed and can play an active role in that hearing. They'll be prompted to ask questions of the police regarding the investigation, and all of that, so that they can they can live with with you know, even if there's no prosecution, I can live with that. Once I know the facts. I need to know the circumstances surrounding my loved ones death. And it's very painful if we're always wondering, unable to sleep at night because we don't know those details. So that's why it's so important that families are given that information and that support when they need us.
Yeah, I can certainly see why. Again, it's so important to have this type of organisation to represent victims of road traffic collisions. And also, as you said, the importance of getting the word out so that people know and are aware that there is somebody that can you know, There is a group, an organisation that can support them, be there with them stand beside them. And also for many, I'm, you know, both yourself and probably many of your volunteers, you know, have had even those experiences themselves and can say not only can I stand beside you and support you, but I, I can empathise with you as well, because I've, you know, we've been there and we don't want you to go through that same type of carry that same burden. What kinds of supports specifically does the Irish road victims Association provide for families?
Well, we we would, we would cover the cost of bereavement counselling. We're not counsellors ourselves, but families can choose a counsellor and the services available nationwide, and we will cover the cost through our own fundraising activities to provide that service for them. We also provide free legal advice, we have a barrister who, who helps us there. So the families are in need, they're coming up to the inquest, or while they're dealing with the bar the investigation or the DPP, he is there to provide legal advice to them. And other than that, it's a listening ear peer support, sometimes, that's all families need just to be able to pick up the phone and speak to somebody who understands somebody who has been through it themselves. And you know, we're non judgmental, you know, we treat everybody equally in the services available to everybody. Regardless of where the crash occurred, or, you know, culpability for the crash. A, once you're bereaved in real crash, we're there to support you. The same with seriously injured victims. Although most of our support does tend to be for bereaved families, because they're, they're the ones who tend to to to contact us. But the service is also available to those who've been seriously injured themselves. And then once a year, we come together in Mullingar, which is in the centre of Ireland, to provide an event for to mark the World Day of Remembrance for road traffic victims. And that's always on the third Sunday in November. And it's an event that's marked all around the world. But we come together we bring about 300 families together in Mullingar, we have light lunch, and we remember our loved ones through song, poetry releasing doves floating flowers on the lake. And little things like that. That means so much to the families. And then with with the advent of COVID, and we've had to had our move our support meetings online. So we now have a monthly support group meeting held through zoom normally on the first Wednesday of every month, and families then will join us as and when they they want to or need need our support.
And does your advocates did the does? Does your organisation the support services extend to advocating in campaigning for law changes and those types of things within government? Or do you just stay within supporting the family and then provide resources for them in other ways,
primarily a victim support organisation. But yes, we do advocate for changes in legislation if and when we see that they're needed. For instance, a you know, in the case of my own son's death, the lorry driver involved in the crash was not tested for alcohol or drugs. So we campaigned to make sure that the legislation was changed to ensure that there was mandatory test following a fatal or serious, serious injury collision, unless it was prejudicial to the health of the driver concerned. So those the guards must check now, following more fatal collisions, and if they don't, they must give a reason why. And that's very important, because we need to know if alcohol or drugs were a factor. And the same for other causes of collision, such as fatigue, mobile phone use speed, we want to make sure that all of those are checked. In every case, whether it's death and injury. If it's not mandatory in law, them sometimes they're not all checked, and the police may be led down one route to the exclusion of others. For instance, he might, you know, a young driver and then exclude you know, all of the other factors that may have been a contributing contributory factor to that crash. So it's important to us not only so that families can have that information and obtain some semblance of justice for their loss, but also so that our road safety efforts are in fact, evidence based. So we rely on the police to collect this information on this evidence and share it with those in government and in the Road Safety Authority, for instance, to ensure that our campaigns on that are based on the evidence.
So this charity also has international connections. It was mentioned in your bio earlier. And you've actually mentioned it a couple times in conversation here. But can you tell us a little bit more about the international significance and impact?
Yes, I suppose what I found over the years was in dealing with NGOs all around the world, our problems were the same. And although one different levels, for instance, in Ireland and a high income country, we have a great emergency response. In other countries, their difficulty would be with emergency responders, not having an ambulance, for instance, to go to the side of the road. So we all had similar problems. And we wanted to come together and share those and to strengthen the voice of the victims on a global level. So we work together to ensure that the post crash response is effective. And throughout the world, for instance, a poor investigation or the non existence of an investigation was quite common. So we want to make sure that the investigations are thorough in every case, so that the evidence is gathered, and that we do have the facts surrounding all of these deaths. It was a shock to me to find the level of devastation, it's something that I don't think the man on the street is aware of, that we're killing 154 people every hour, on the roads of the world, 3700 people every single day. That's a huge human catastrophe that we hear very little about, you know, how many, how many aeroplanes is 3700 people every single day. And yet, there's an aeroplane crash, it's in the news for months, we hear very little about these deaths. Why? Because there tends to be individual tragic tragedies, like my own, with the family left alone to pick up the pieces and deal with the horrific consequences of the aftermath. So support was vital. And I suppose the world has a much smaller place now. So no matter where in the world, the crash occurs, we can guess help to the victim. And, you know, we can transcend language barriers, and all of that, you know, with with technology and all now we can provide information and support to to anybody who's affected. So really, there's no need for anybody to feel isolated and alone. And I feel that that was the worst feeling. Yeah, you know, that really did feel isolated and alone. And there was nobody to help. Nobody really understood what you were going through. I felt that even amidst my own family, you know, while they, they felt they understood, they really didn't understand, you know, and may have questioned why I would do this work, it was never going to bring my child back. But having experienced this, we are compelled to try to do something to try to prevent it happening to others. Because these are not incurable diseases. We know the causes speed, it distracted driving bad roads, we know the cause. And we have to do more to try to prevent them. And every single person can do their little bit. To try to make the road safer for all of us. I always felt if I could just get to one person to get them to change the driving habits to prevent one death. This was worth all of the efforts because I know the author devastation, but just the loss of my own son cost not only in our family, but in the whole community. He He played basketball for Ireland and he was a great football are here in West Meath. So his team were devastated at the time, the whole community. Remember the front page of the newspaper was you know, the town was in mourning. It was really a huge shock to a lot of people. And it's something that we would never get over our lives have been completely upended something that you never recover from. And, you know, we always missed out and I do this in his honour, you know, and it's worth it. Yeah, I think. Yeah.
So, I am familiar with, you know, living in Ireland for five years. I'm familiar with some some crashes and road collisions that had occurred that were publicised because they they dealt with international people who were there either visiting. I think it was the too that I can think of specifically one rather recently and the other one just a few years ago. They were families that were visiting from from other countries. And do you guys come alongside and assist and reach out to the families, in situations like that, where they're not actually sure even how to navigate these types of scenarios within a different country than then where their family members are living.
Absolutely, Shelli, and I have assisted families from abroad already. I picked up families for found some that coming over for the death of their son picked them up from the airport and help them as much as I could visited the police with them. Again, language was a difficulty there. But yes, we do we assist in any way that we can. It doesn't matter where you live, or where the crash occurs. So we have Irish families where their death might have occurred in Australia, but they're also welcome to come to our organisation, the same as those who live abroad. And the crash happened here. But we don't approach families directly, we wait until the time is right for them to approach us. And so we rely on the police to give our literature to each of the families affected. And we're assured that they do. families may be slow to come to us for whatever reason, you know, from months on and you're in shock numbed, you may not even be able to pull yourself out of bed. And so it is very important that they do have somebody to to represent them or to try and get the information for them during those trying times. Because during that period, they may find that they become statute barred, as I said, I thought nothing was going to happen until after my inquest, for instance, into the son My son's death. But that was six years after the crash, well outside the time you were allowed to take a civil case. So in the event that there's no criminal criminal prosecution, that was my only opportunity to have a hearing of the circumstances surrounding my son's death. And I was deprived of that, because I was statute barred. So it is really important. And we would encourage families, even if they don't feel able to ask the questions themselves, to appoint somebody to do it on their behalf. Because it is important to to ask the police, you know, the questions that you need answered, you know, to prompt them maybe into investigating an area that they may not otherwise investigate. Although we do hope that all investigations at this stage are correct. But at the time of my son's death, unfortunately, that wasn't the case. But things are improving over the years. To say, yeah,
you obviously have a good network internationally, where you can reach out to the other organisations when there is something that happens internationally, whether it's people visiting Ireland are living in Ireland, that are from other countries or Irish families, you know, bereaved families, having to deal with those types of things in other countries, it sounds like, you know, your organisation is looked at your association is looked at, as as not adversarial, to the guards to, you know, the the law enforcement authorities, rather, they they're able to, you know, give your information out. And that's good. So there's, there seems to be a good partnership or a linking there. That's a positive influence, rather than anybody from either side kind of seeing the other as adversarial.
Absolutely. And, you know, the reports we get back about the the guard, the family liaison officers are wonderful there are they're wonderful people. I have to say, I never get a bad report that the character of a family liaison officer, unfortunately, the they're sometimes restricted in the information that they can provide to the families. And that doesn't help. But I can understand the reason for that. The reason behind them not being able to divulge information is because they don't want to prejudice, prejudice, any criminal trial that may or may be coming up. But in the event that the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided that there's going to be no prosecution, then I think at that stage, the information should be given to the families. They shouldn't have to wait until after the coroner's inquest, which is the case at the moment. The Gaurai that you don't want to give the information until the inquest is over. But in our view, that's too late. Because in the families are going into the inquest to hear things for the first time, and they're not in a position to questioners or to take expert advice on it or anything like that. And when the inquest is over the guard the role is complete. And they then move on to the next case. And so it's really too late for the families to go back to look for answers to their questions at that stage. So we're still advocating there for for a change, to have that information given to the families in advance of the inquest. And we're very hopeful that that will happen because I really feel that it is needed. And to ensure that families aren't being re traumatised,
it's good that it is good that there's that open dialogue and the possibility for positive relationships when these types of things occur. So I know that you rely on, you know that your association relies on volunteer volunteers and volunteer workers to, you know, provide services for and in representation of the IRVA. What kinds of volunteer work do your volunteers do? And you know, in your opinion, why, why do they volunteer?
We're all volunteers, the Irish road victims Association, most of us have been affected as I have been, we've lost a loved one on the road be our son or daughter, the sibling, husband, or wife. Yeah, and we've all been compelled to act, you know, to try to prevent first of all these deaths occurring at all. So we do you know, raise awareness for road safety and do our bit there and also advocate for changes in legislation as they're needed. But to raise funding for the charity, we we take part in marathons we we have coffee mornings, skydives, run-a-mucks all of these activities that bring in much needed funding for the charity so that we're able to provide that bereavement counselling, and provide our service throughout the year. So, so yeah, we don't rely on any government funding or anything. So we're completely independent. And we can we can get by on very little money. You know, any, any monies that we collect are used, you know, not to pay our salaries or anything like that. But they go to providing the services in the organisation.
As a small charity, how do you how do you manage volunteers, when when people reach out to you and say, I'd really like to volunteer, whether it is to raise funds or to help out at one of your events or those types of things? How do you go about managing your volunteers?
Well, we welcome any help that we can get, certainly for fundraising, and anybody who wants to join us in in advocating for changes in legislation or to provide expertise that they might have, such as the the barrister, who's come on board who provides free legal advice. We also welcome them to join our team. So yeah, we're a very small team, really, I think there are about eight of us on the board. And we we, we run a very tight ship.
You mentioned earlier that you mentioned some impacts of COVID. Taking some of your, you know, your meetings online and that type of thing. But how has COVID affected, affected that your work with irba, and, and even the volunteer contributions from you know, your volunteers. But mostly,
all of our work really is is online or on the phone. We don't often meet up unless requested by the families. So during COVID, we couldn't do that. So that's why we've had the online support group meetings. They don't replace meeting for a coffee and a chat here, but they're certainly better than nothing. I myself, I don't, I don't, I don't really like zoom meetings. But I think it was said they're they're better than not meeting at all. For The World Day of Remembrance, we weren't able to hold on to an event last year, because of the restrictions. So again, we went online, and we held, we went live for about an hour and a half, again, with music and poetry and all of that. And we also distributed personalised candles to families who, who would would like one. So we had a world a remembrance candle made up with their loved ones photographed on it, and posted those out all around the country. And we let them all together during the event. And again, families found that to be a great comfort on the day. And they knew that they weren't on the road, we were all there to, to to light the candles together, which was nice. I'm thinking we might have to do the same this year because the hospitality industry hasn't opened up yet. So so we might have to do the same this year, which is sad, because families really look forward to coming to our event every year. In fact, they they see us now as their family. One man said to us, you know, he comes every year to remember his son. And he said you're my family now. And I thought that was lovely and and it meant so much to us. You know, as I said, you know if you can provide help to one family and ease their burden, it was worth all of our efforts, I think
Yeah, absolutely. So you I'm aware that you've developed a victim's guide for people that have been affected by road traffic collisions. Can you tell us about the context and the content of the guide and how this resource can help others?
Yeah, so we have a guide available on our website for for families to download. But on an international level, we also produce a guide at writing a guide for families bereaved by road crashes, because it wasn't possible for us to write a universal guide that would be effective in every country. This guide prepares NGOs for writing their own national guides. So it has been endorsed byJohn Tott, who's the UN Special Envoy for road safety, and Dr. Entiencrue from the World Health Organisation provided the foreword. And we've managed to have that translated now into as languages. And it's available to download free of charge on the website. So yeah, we feel it's a it's a very useful tool. We're very proud of it. And the fact that it's available to everybody.
Yeah, yeah. So I'd like it, I'd like I'd really like it if you could share with our listeners, some contacts or online recommendations that you can share with us, especially if people are either interested, who are listening in Ireland, or abroad and are interested in maybe donating or giving to the charity, but also learning more about the Irish road victims Association, or how they can get involved, again, in Ireland or in other countries. So if you can share some recommendations for us, that and resources, that'd be fantastic.
Well, we we can be contacted all the time through our website. So IRVA IRVA.ie, in Ireland,and IRVP.org for the International road victims partnership. And on the international website, there are copies of the guide. Also, a road death investigation reports, and the victims rights report, amongst others, and they're all available there to download from the website. We're also very active on social media, both on Twitter, and Facebook. Again, we can be very easily found there onto the international road victims partnership, or the Irish road victims Association. And you can get in touch with us through any of those four.
And I will also make sure that in the descriptor for this interview, we'll provide that you know, those links to Twitter, to your social media, and also to your website and the International website as well. So that people can have a clickable, you know, way to get in touch with you as well. Donna any final words of wisdom or advice for maybe for anyone who might be interested again, in volunteering or supporting the association, or maybe, you know, if they they're aware of, you know, a tragedy, a road tragedy that has occurred recently, you know, with somebody that they they know and love and care about families or friends, that type of thing.
We would encourage anybody who knows somebody who has been affected like this, to to encourage them to reach out, reach out for help, no matter where they are in the world, there is somebody there to help them. If it's our own organisation here in Ireland to reach out to the Irish road victims Association, or any organisation within the partnership, there are 150 organisations within the international road victims partnership. And we have a reciprocal arrangement. So just like IRVA would provide support to families from America who are affected, or Australia who are affected or any country are affected. All of our NGO members will do the two Likewise, if the crash occurs in their country. So as I said, we can transcend language barriers and other difficulties like that quite easily. And that can be a great help to families. And all of the services are provided free of charge. So families, you know, I always find that a huge burden on families at that time and funeral costs and everything. So I'm very proud of the fact that we provide all of those services free of charge. So there's nobody coming looking for money for anything. And, you know, we provide all of the supports in a safe environment. And everything is completely confidential. And, yeah, reach out. And eeh also would like to appear to anybody, you know, these deaths can so easily be prevented. And if you call out anybody that you see that breaking the rules of the road and dangering others, one person at a time, if we can get people to use our roads more responsibly, and looking out for vulnerable road users, we can save lives. And it is as simple as that, you know, one person call out a drunk driver or somebody who's driving while texting on their phones, they have no idea of the dangers or how easy things can change in an instant. And suddenly they find themselves responsible, either for their own death, or the death of their own family, or for some other innocent road user. And really, it's unforgiveable when we know the causes of these deaths, not to do something to try to prevent them, right, because it is a huge, huge human tragedy, as I said, 1.36 5 million people every year are killed. And it's estimated 50 million more, are seriously injured and left with life altering injuries left to pick up the pieces for the rest of their lives.
And what do you hope for the future? For the the association? You know, it's been, it's been a long, long, it's been a long time, since you, you know, you started through this process and in started the organisation and that type of thing. So what, you know, what, what do you hope for the future?
I really hope for a time when our organisation will be needed, when you know, deaths on the road are a thing of the past. I really hope so because, you know, I can't believe it, my own son was killed 15 years ago, through no fault of his own. But yes, his life has been ended, he was only starting out in life at 18 years of age. And we really must do more to protect them. You know, we have a duty of care, we need to protect our children on the roads, and all of our families on the roads, you know, let's all get home safely to our families. The roads are there for all of our youth, our licence is a privilege, it's not aright. And if you're going to endanger others, then you should expect to lose your licence and to be deprived of that privilege. Because it can't be allowed to continue to endanger other innocent road users,
Yes, absolutely. Donna, it has been. First of all, I want to say thank you so much for coming on, you know, for sharing your vulnerabilities with us for sharing your story, your very intimate and tragic story, but also for sharing with us, you know, the possibilities that that that have come of that in in memory and an honour of Your son. Darren, so thank you so much for spending this time with us. And I do wish the very best for IRVA. And I hope for the greatest success for the organisation going forward.
Thank you very much, Shelli that I think you know, the better the most, the best we can wish for is that we're not in existence in 10 years time, and that road deaths have gone down to zero or as close to zero as possible. But I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and I really hope that it'll reach some families who've been affected, and that they can get in touch and get the help that they need. Because that's what we're there for.
Thanks so much. Thanks so much, Donna.
I hope that you've enjoyed this discussion on A Dash of SaLT, a space where you'll always find fresh and current discussions on society and learning today. Season with just the right touch of experts in education and a dash of sociological imagination. Please be sure to like and share this episode. And don't forget to subscribe to A Dash of SaLT on Podbean, so that you don't miss the next episode. Thanks so much and we'll chat again soon.