A cautionary tale

There are probably only three or four days in my life that I would change if I could.

The first incident happened on a beautiful spring morning in1959 in Bulawayo, where I was a very new rookie constable on “foot patrol”.

7.15 am and I was standing at a four-way intersection in the city centre where drivers are expected to stop and look before proceeding. I became aware of a vehicle approaching the intersection. There was a three year old child standing on the front passenger seat. The child’s mother, the driver of the car, had an unlit cigarette in her mouth and was scrabbling for the car lighter on the dash board.

In the same instant I became aware of another vehicle starting to back out of a parking bay, into the lane of the oncoming car. The driver was concentrating on waving good bye to a friend on the pavement. The inevitable happened and the vehicles collided.

The really tragic part is that the child in the first vehicle became a missile, flew through the air and smashed though the windscreen breaking his neck in the process. I am sure that everyone who reads this will Identify with the shock, horror and tragedy of what happened.

This morning, some 58 years later I was again standing close to a four-way intersection. Two cars were approaching the intersection from different directions.  There was a young child in each of the cars, both properly in the back of their respective vehicle. The one travelling south had on a seat belt but the child travelling west was standing in the back, between the two front seats.

In that ghastly split second before an inevitable tragedy happens, I realised that both vehicles were travelling too fast to avoid the impact and both drivers were talking on their cell phones. The child who was wearing a seatbelt, apart from being seriously shocked, was unhurt. The child standing between the seats, however, hit the dashboard with her face and will require years of plastic surgery to make her look normal.

It would be pointless to argue the responsibility of each of the four drivers.

What I would beseech you, mothers and fathers alike, is first to make sure your kids are properly secured with a seatbelt in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle you are driving. And then when you are driving, be sure that is all that you are doing. Don’t smoke, especially don’t light cigarettes, don’t talk on your cell or text on it; give your whole attention to what you are doing and think for the other road user who may not be concentrating.

Lastly, and most profoundly, may I caution you that the horror and remorse and guilt which follows being involved in the death or disfigurement of a child is unbearable and has destroyed many lives.

Don’t use your cell phone while driving, even with a hands free set; your mind is on your conversation and not where it should be – on your driving.

Alan Cunningham (Father & Grandfather)

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