Barry Soper: I lost my brother in a crash, the road toll's cost is immeasurable

Author
Barry Soper,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 17 April 2019, 6:59AM

COMMENT:

It's one of those telephone calls you get and you'll never forget.

It's a moment in time that remains etched on your mind forever, you will always remember exactly how you felt because the impact is greater than anything you've ever experienced - and anything you'd never want to experience again.

You remember the time of the day, the ring of the phone and the words that'll change your life forever. You go numb, you can't process what you've just been told.

It was April 23, 1981 - 38 years ago next Tuesday - that the phone rang and my younger sister gave me the news: my teenage brother had been killed on the road. My mother was far too distraught to make the call.

Paul was 14 years younger than me. The rain was falling heavily in my hometown of Gore that Thursday night, he was riding the motorcycle I'd given him for a birthday present more than a year earlier, and he was on his way to the final dress rehearsal of a repertory production he was playing the lead role in.

He'd hit some gravel on the bitumen road half a kilometre from home, the bike went out of control and he slid into the path of an oncoming truck. He died on the roadside while being tended to by an ambulance officer who insisted he didn't suffer.

Paul was a well-loved character. The school he was attending still annually awards the Paul Soper trophy I donated to it for the senior Eisteddfod champion.

My family grieved for many years. Christmases were always sombre gatherings as we remembered how great they were when he was alive and my father died, heartbroken, not too long after Paul's death.

I couldn't bear to see a photograph of Paul for decades afterwards. His young face always reminded me of the joy I was missing. The one I now have in my bedroom finally makes me happy because of the way he felt when it was taken - he'd just won an American field scholarship.

All of this came flooding back to me when Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter put out a statement on the social cost of crashes on our roads. With around one person a day being killed on the roads, it's almost unimaginable that so many families are about to begin their long journeys of grief.

The social cost of fatal and injury crashes in 2017 has been put at $4.8 billion, up more than a half a billion on a year earlier. That year the road toll was 378, with 10 times that number receiving serious and often-life threatening injuries.

It's not the monetary cost that lingers, it's the devastation that's caused, usually by a moment's inattention.

Genter said it's impossible to fully account for the personal price families and communities face with lives lost, or changed forever.

She's right, there's no accounting for that cost, it's immeasurable.

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