Oxfordshire residents have their favourite landmarks, like Blenheim Palace, the Radcliffe Camera, the Alfred the Great statue in Wantage and Banbury Cross.
The county’s firefighters also recall notable locations, but for them, these are places that trigger haunting memories of collisions they have attended. No pleasure is taken from viewing these landmarks.
Andy Ford, Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service’s road safety manager, explains why roadside hedges and trees, not iconic buildings and statues, resonate with him.
“There’s a tree beside the A418 near Thame. I often think about it,” says Andy.
“Most people won’t notice this tree as they drive by. But I can never forget what I experienced there.”
Andy is referring to a call out to a road traffic collision. A tragedy that cost three lives, and nearly a fourth – saved by the intervention of a seatbelt.
He reluctantly continues his harrowing account, motivated by a determination to save lives as he leads Oxfordshire’s current road safety campaign, It’s Not Worth the Risk.
This highlights four contributory factors to 90 per cent of road traffic collisions across the county: not wearing a seatbelt, distraction, speed and drink and drugs
Andy recalls the aftermath of the collision near Thame. “The fatal four all played their part on that terrible day. The driver had been speeding and was found to have been under the influence of alcohol.
“It’s probable they were distracted approaching a bend in the road. They and all but one of their passengers were thrown out of the vehicle or around inside it, because they weren’t wearing their seatbelts.
“I remember what I saw that day, you can’t just switch off a memory like that, particularly when I regularly drive down that same road and pass the same tree.
“But I do try to drag a positive from the horrific scene. There was a survivor. And that survivor was almost certainly saved because they were the one person in the car wearing a seatbelt.
“That’s what motivates me as road safety manager. Knowing that most deaths and injuries are avoidable. Cars don’t kill people. But careless driving and complacency can.
“‘It’ll never happen to me’. That’s complacency. But it only takes a second for a collision to happen, and you can’t step back in time afterwards; putting on your seatbelt, reducing your speed, saying ‘no’ to that extra drink, or delaying the important phone-call. Too late.”
It’s not worth the risk, says Andy
Andy is passionate about what he does. The Thame resident has been an Oxfordshire firefighter for nearly 30 years having joined the service in 1991.
The 54-year-old has attended eight road traffic collision deaths in the past year. In fact, Andy’s seen so many deaths, he has lost count.
Hugely frustrating and upsetting for Andy, as virtually all were avoidable.
“Oxfordshire has more rural roads than most counties. And Oxford city centre more cyclists per head of population than most other towns and cities,” he said.
“This means drivers must be alert, drive sensibly, safely and share the risk, from the moment they turn the ignition key.
“If you cause a collision, it can result in life-changing injuries to you, or to anyone else involved.
“You will also carry the terrible guilt, and for what? For the sake of a lunchtime drink, a phone-call, or saving a bit of time?”
Andy had a direct message to anyone who risks causing an accident and creating more painful memories for the families of the casualties and the emergency services.
“Trees, hedges, these are my memorable landmarks, because I connect them to road traffic collisions,” he said.
“We live in a beautiful county. There are so many iconic buildings and views. But if you’re careless or complacent behind the wheel, you might never see them again. Your passengers might not either.
“Whether as a car driver, a pedestrian, cyclist or motorbike rider, we all use and share the roads.
“Don’t leave me and colleagues in the emergency services with a memory we don’t want, but one we’ll never forget.
“Please, ‘it’s not worth the risk’. Drive safety and responsibly.”
Flipped minibus on M40 memory
Andy has been stationed across Oxfordshire in his time with the fire service, including Banbury not so long ago.
When asked if there were any memorable crashes which could have been avoided, the M40 sticks in his mind. “Once a minibus had overturned and we had to cut a number of people free,” he said.
The road safety manager also remembers flipped vans and accidents on the many rural roads of Banburyshire.
And pretty much all of them could have been avoided.
“I remember from my time in Banbury that it’s a very rural part of Oxfordshire and we attended a number of serious collisions on rural roads,” he said.
“Ninety per cent of collisions are down to human error, cars don’t cause collisions, so we need to understand how we can avoid an accident by not taking risks and concentrating on the road.”
For further information about the fatal four and how to drive safely, visit 365alive.co.uk/fatalfour