By Jeremy Rochow
Published: Saturday, November 25, 2023
Only a quarter of South Australians live in regional areas but 70 per cent of the lives lost in crashes occur on country roads.
These fatalities are so much more than just statistics and have a widespread impact on the community.
Most road trips are fun and an adventure to look forward to, but a breakdown or crash can turn your holiday into a nightmare. A little planning goes a long way and there are things you can do to help prepare yourself – and your car – for a trip that’s safe and memorable (for the right reasons).
“In small communities, everyone will know the person [killed or seriously injured in a crash] so it has a wider impact than what you’d normally see in a metropolitan setting for sure,” says CFS Mount Barker Lieutenant Michael Bohrnsen.
Michael has been a part of the CFS for more than 25 years and has seen dozens of road crashes during his time volunteering with several Adelaide Hills brigades. He also spent nine years in the Whyalla MFS and is a paramedic.
Being an emergency services worker in a regional area means there’s a greater chance Michael will know the people involved in a crash he’s attending.
“It’s always a worry that you’ll go to someone you know, but it’s also comforting to know that if anybody you know is in need, you’ll be there for them,” Michael says.
I’ve had it very close to home, though – very close unfortunately.
Even people I’ve been to school with and others that I may not be close with, but you know them in your community, or you’ll recognise the car.”
The CFS is a volunteer organisation, and many of the people who are part of the organisation also have regular jobs.
After a fatal crash
A vehicle crash with fatalities and serious injuries can be a confronting scene, but Michael says they are trained to deal with these situations.
“The CFS has a really good system called SPAM (Stress Prevention and Management), which is our psychological support unit,” he says. “If we get a severe job, we’ll have a debrief [on the day], and then a formal debrief a few days later.
“There’s also the camaraderie amongst the people who are in the CFS, and we look after each other.”
These crashes don’t just impact the emergency services that attend the crash, but also the wider community. Between 2018 and 2022 there were 321 road fatalities in regional South Australia.
Two in three of the lives lost on regional roads are country people. Earlier this year there was a 17-year-old boy from Senior, on the Victorian border, killed in a crash near Bordertown.
|Road fatalities by region
|Barossa Light and Lower North
|Eyre and Western
|Yorke and Mid North
And, in May, a 47-year-old Berri man was killed in a crash at Renmark West. People killed in road crashes in a regional centre might be the local plumber, a player in the town’s footy team or a student at the district’s school.
But like any small community, they band together during tough times. “The strength in country communities is they will come together around the families in any sort of crisis,” Michael says. “It’s probably one of the best things about living in a rural area.”
You may have seen ABC reporter Charles Brice on your television screen, but you might not know his story.
Charles had been riding motorcycles for about 15 years. In 2010, at just 19, Charles had a motorcycle crash on a rural property near Loxton, shattering his vertebrae and severing his spinal cord. As a result of the accident, Charles is now living with quadriplegia.
“After the accident, I knew there was something wrong – I wasn’t able to move any part of my body,” Charles says.
“I had a mobile phone in my pocket, and once I remembered I had access to that, I went to reach for it and realised, I couldn’t move any part of my body.
“So, I was forced to wait there for between 20 and 30 minutes for someone to come back and find me, because I was at the back [of the group] when it happened… it was a pretty lonely and frightening time waiting for someone to come back.”
Charles was taken to Loxton Hospital Complex before being airlifted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) where he was told he’d shattered two vertebrae in his neck and completely severed his spinal cord.
He was unconscious for three weeks, spent 52 days in the intensive care unit, 21 days in the spinal ward at the RAH and 14 months in rehab at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre.
“A lot of it was very tedious and rehab wasn’t exciting at all,” he says. “Some days, I was sitting on the edge of a plinth or in a wheelchair, just doing simple, mundane tasks like hitting a balloon back to the therapist.
To go from someone who was fit and healthy and active to barely being able to scratch your nose, was a huge adjustment.”
While there are some daily hurdles, like finding a place to cross the road safely or reaching items on the top shelf at the supermarket, Charles says he is content and happy with where he’s at in life.
When jumping on that motorbike in 2010, Charles knew the risks he was taking, but has one piece of advice for people who are riding motorcycles.
“Enjoy it as long as you can, because you never know when your time will be up,” he says. “Be safe, always wear a helmet, because if I wasn’t wearing a helmet, then it wouldn’t just be a spinal cord injury I’d be dealing with.”
There are various factors that contribute to crashes in regional South Australia. Between 2018 and 2022, speed was a major contributing factor, with 88 per cent of fatalities occurring on country roads where the speed limit was 80km/h or above.
One in five lives lost on regional roads during the same period involved alcohol, while in 16 per cent of fatal crashes, drugs were a factor.
And, shockingly, despite all the messaging and campaigns, 24 per cent of the people who lost their lives in regional crashes were not wearing a seatbelt despite one being available to them.
Regional road fatalities 2023
Fatalities on regional roads up to 16 November 2023.
RAA Senior Manager of Safety and Infrastructure Charles Mountain says these factors contribute to the high number of people losing their lives on country roads.
“The higher speeds on regional roads, compared with those on the majority of metro roads, combined with the long distances travelled in regional areas and driver fatigue contribute to higher fatalities,” he says.
“Excess speed – especially on roads with high speed limits – can put not only you and your loved ones, but also other roads users at increased risk of death or serious injury.”