Established in 2006, bstreetsmart (formerly the Youth and Road Trauma Forum) has been set up by trauma nurses at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital. bstreetsmart gives students who are most at risk, a realistic look at the trauma caused by road crashes and provides them information and strategies in an attempt to reduce serious injuries and deaths. The contents and structure aims to treat young people as adults allowing them freedom to choose from a range of interactive exhibits. bstreetsmart runs over three days and includes a realistic reconstructed car crash involving victims, police, ambulance and fire personnel. bstreetsmart consists of an exciting combination of demonstrations, crash dynamics and rescue, vehicle stopping distances and active exhibits. Each school attends for one day only.
We interviewed a wide cross section of people involved in the organisation of bstreetsmart to better understand why the event is important to them – either personally or for the service that their organisation offers. We also interviewed some of the attendees to help complete the picture.
‘Everybody’s life is important. If we can save one person, it’s worth it. If I can stop one crew having to go and cut one more child out of a car, it’s worth it. Even if we don’t reach the teenager that’s driving, we might reach his girlfriend of her boyfriend and stop them getting in the car with them and save that life instead. We might not ever know that we’ve saved that life but I think we will.’
What is the hardest part of cutting someone out of a car?
‘Working with so many people in such a small area. It becomes very congested when you’ve got paramedics and doctors trying to save the life of the patient and the rescue crew are trying to cut that patient out at the same time. Sometimes the priorities conflict so someone might have to stop for the other side to do something. That can be quite frustrating when you know you’ve got a little bit more to go and the paramedics or the doctors are asking you to hang on a minute.
What is one of the hardest jobs that you’ve done?
‘A woman that ran over her own daughter. The daughter was young, around six years old. The child was under the car and didn’t survive. Children are always the worst – whether it be a younger child or P-platers, they don’t realise that they have their whole life ahead of them and nothing, nothing, no text message, no phone call, no date is worth losing your life over – rushing to get somewhere because you’re five minutes late, just be five minutes late.’
Has there ever been a time where you’ve struggled through a job?
‘Off duty I stopped at an accident once and that was probably the hardest job I’ve ever done because I was so outside my comfort zone. I didn’t have any equipment. I didn’t have any protective clothing. I didn’t have a crew with me and I was there by myself while a little child was dying in another bystander’s (who happened to be a nurse) arms.’
Do you think it would have had a better outcome had you been equipped?
‘The child probably would have died anyway but your head says one thing and your heart says something else. Your heart says you could have done more and your head says, no, there is nothing more you could do.’
Do you think programs like bstreetsmart will help reduce the impact on emergency services?
‘I think so. No one wants to go to kids. Adults are bad but nobody really wants to go to a kid involved in an accident. I’m sure that police officer doesn’t want to go and knock on that family’s door at 2 o’clock in the morning and that nurse doesn’t want to have to deal with the family in the emergency department waiting room. We’re expecting 20,000 children at bstreetsmart this year, if we can save one, that’s one less parent that’s going to lose a child, one less brother that’s going to lose a sibling. It’s one less job we have to go to and that is a good thing.’
Peter Kirwan, Technical Rescue Instructor with Fire and Rescue NSW
‘I think bstreetsmart is an amazing thing that we have been doing for the past nine years. We started it back in 2006 because we really wanted to stop our kids coming in to our emergency departments and intensive cares with life threatening illnesses that probably could have been avoided if they’d made smarter choices.
‘My children are adults now but when I first started the event they were teenagers. They were at that age that I actually made them both come to this event because I thought it was very, very important when they were first starting to drive.
‘When I first started as a trauma nurse, I’d walk in to emergency – particularly intensive care – and I’d see kids the same age as mine and I’d think there is some poor parent grieving at the moment and I would hate to be in their shoes. When they’re the same age as your own children, I think it becomes quite personal. You can really relate to them and see how hard it is for the whole family.
‘We do deal with the families and we do have to try and pick up the pieces and try and be professional. Sometimes that’s very hard when you can relate to their problems and their stories. As a nurse you get a tough skin. Sometimes you take it home but you try not to. The hardest part for me is trying not to cry at the same time as the families! I’m absolutely terrible at that! Also having to tell their parents that there isn’t any hope and that we have to make some really hard decisions such as turning off life support and things like that.’
Stephanie Wilson, bstreetsmart founder and Trauma Clinical Nurse Consultant, Westmead Hospital
‘bstreetsmart is so important because our kids who are about to enter the roads for the first time are also our long term leaders. This is our next generation and what we don’t want to do is lose them. bstreetsmart enables the kids to graphically see the consequences of not being smart on our roads – making bad decisions and the consequences of them.
‘Getting that graphic reminder to keep our future generation intact – that’s what it’s all about.’
What do you tell your daughter before she gets behind the wheel?
‘I tell her to be safe, be sensible and bstreetsmart.’
NSW Premier Mike Baird
‘Having spent the last 20 odd years working in the emergency department at Westmead Hospital and seeing the huge toll that road trauma takes on our youngest, brightest and best, I think bstreetmsart is vitally important. They’re becoming adults, they’re becoming capable, they love fun and they need to be able to make very quick judgements. We need to give them all the information so they can judge well.
‘They need to know that their life, their mates’ lives and the lives of those around them are actually in their hands. They need to realise the depth of the level of responsibility that this new level of capability gives them.’
Dr Roslyn Crampton, Chief Medical Advisor at Westmead Hospital
‘Our role is to investigate serious crashes – mainly crashes that involve death or serious injury where there might be indictable or criminal charges.
‘It’s tough sometimes especially when kids and babies or young children are involved. It’s something that you get desensitised to in some respects but we get counselled fairly regularly and try to look for signs of any stress related behaviour. It is sometimes upsetting dealing with the families.
‘We don’t deliver the death messages but when we take on an investigation, we deal with the families from then on. We absorb some of their suffering and their experience.
‘With young drivers, it’s quite often not something they’ve intended to do – it’s terrible mistakes most of the time so you do have to relate to the families of the offending drivers as well. In this case, they’re only children or young people as well.
‘bstreetsmart is very important. If we can get through to these kids before they get out on the street, then we can hopefully prevent the sorts of trauma that we see. It’s not only death and serious injury to the kids themselves, it’s the effect it has on the families it has as well.
‘We like to get the message across that they’re likely going to be charged with some very serious charges and there are very serious consequences to this sort of behaviour.’
Senior Constable Martin Pepperell, Police Crash Investigation Unit
‘bstreetsmart is an outstanding initiative. It’s an opportunity to shock young drivers in to recognising that there are consequences of actions that they take. Seeing it first hand, although it is a re-enactment, is unbelievably realistic. I think it’s going to save lives.
‘Paramedics don’t like going to road trauma. From a personal perspective, I’m a father and I don’t want to see young people involved because I immediately assimilate that to my own family. From an ambulance perspective, it’s a bit different. It not only affects the drivers but it affects the families and the community as well. I don’t want a high workload. If this reduces the road trauma and the workload of the ambulance services, the police force, fire and rescue, we’re doing a great job.
‘The hardest part of going to a crash scene as a paramedic is the peripheral damage of the catastrophe itself – dealing with the survivors of the accident that end up with a brain injury, spinal trauma or severe disability as a result of the accident. In a lot of instances, the families turn up as they find out pretty quick what’s occurred. Dealing with that heartache is extremely difficult to deal with.
‘The most difficult time for me was when I was a brand new intensive care paramedic working out at Parramatta. There was a young lady who was in her early twenties and had twins. The twins were in the back of the vehicle and she was t-boned at an intersection by a truck and the driver of the truck was under the influence of alcohol. It took roughly two hours to get her out of the vehicle. She was deceased. We weren’t aware that children were in the back of the vehicle because the vehicle was that mangled. We had to cut away the baby seats to find the children who had also died. That crash was as a result of a poor decision with a catastrophic result from drink driving.
‘My message to young drives is to make good decisions. Recognise that whatever decision you make make has a consequence and sometimes that consequence can be positive and sometimes that consequence can be catastrophic. Also recognise that you are an inexperienced driver and until you do get some experience under your belt, you need to be very humble behind the wheel.’
Jason Stone, Acting Superintendent, Ambulance NSW
‘I do a lot of teaching. I’ve been a doctor for 30 years but these days I teach somebody somewhere two days a week. I find these easily the most exhausting thing I do all year. You have to be really, really careful about what you’re saying – especially during the re-enactment as there are three or four different scenes going on at the same time.
‘The thing that this does for these young drivers is make them think what could possibly go wrong instead of just thinking they’re going to be alright. It breaks through that shell of nothing will happen to me. Whether you die or you have permanent injuries; or you’re charged with an offense that limits what you can do for the rest of your life – there are multiple levels of just what can go wrong. I think this raises awareness with the kids and makes them think that this could happen.
‘I have been working in retrieval medicine with Careflight for 20 years. I’ve been literally to 500 or 1,000 of these incidents. There are lots of memories I’ve got that aren’t pleasant of things that have happened. As a senior doctor of Careflight, I’ve had that conversation far too many times where you’ve sat down with relatives, friends, girlfriends and said that their mother, father or friend are never going to be the same again. So I’ve got enough memories.’
Dr Ken Harrison, Narrator of bstreetsmart re-enactment, Anaesthetist and Careflight Retrieval Doctor
‘I attended bstreetsmart when I was in year 11, three years ago and have now come back to act in the re-enactment. Having seen a real car crash before –the bstreetsmart car crash re-enactment was so realistic. It really managed to capture how real and intense the situation is. Anyone who hadn’t seen a crash, you just know that they were freaking out. It was so in your face and so important. Seeing that body – for most of the time the actor is lying face down and so they are faceless and it could be anybody – your brother, your sister, your best friend – it really hits home.
‘After seeing bstreetsmart, my friends and I made a pact to say that we would never drink drive or drive under the influence or just be a “dumb” passenger. We said to each other we don’t want to risk our lives or anyone else’s on the roads, why don’t we be safer drivers and so we sought of made this pact and so we agree to help each other to be more aware.’
How does it feel being the “dead body”?
‘Lying still for that long is a challenge but it’s been interesting. It’s good to know that I’m having that same impact on 21,000 kids this year. To know that that impact that that body had on me is now what I’m having on these kids is amazing. You feel good that you’re able to maybe help reach that one kid because that’s what it’s worth.’
Has being part of bstreetsmart made you a better or safer driver?
‘It’s made me aware of all the things that can go wrong. You hear the stories of the speakers at bstreetsmart that have been through tragic accidents and it just makes you more aware of the consequences of any action you might take on the road. I’ve always been a safer driver and haven’t taken risks on the road but it just reinforces with you what happens if you do or if your friends are risky drivers you can educate them. It just reinforces all those things you learnt as a kid – before it’s too late.’
bstreetsmart actor Grace Newnham
‘I’m involved in bstreetsmart so I can be a living example of someone who’s got a spinal cord injury as a result of a motorbike accident and just to bring awareness to young drivers to drive carefully and to think before they act.
‘My main message to young drivers is for them to listen to their hesitations. You don’t have to be anywhere on time. It’s not cool if you don’t turn up in one piece – just look out for people on the road. Don’t assume other people are going to follow the road rules either. Drive your own drive.
‘I absolutely love telling my story to 20,000 young people. I love that I can switch this in a positive way and have people see that you can move on with your life if this does happen to you. But there are ways to prevent it and it’s easy to prevent.’
Motorbike crash survivor and bstreetsmart speaker, Heidi Haydon
‘It’s just a split second thing that can happen when you’re driving. You need to be focused every split second. You can’t do that when you’re tired which was my case when I had a near miss on the road. That second could be when you’re on the phone as well. Or it could be the split second that alcohol delays your response. It’s just that and the awareness factor. I think people know what we should and shouldn’t do on the road but it’s about being aware of those split seconds while you’re doing it.
‘I was never one of those guys that was drag racing or drink driving when I was younger but I think we just need to be aware. Be aware when you get in the car with others – more aware of what condition they’re in as well.’
Award winning country music singer/songwriter and bstreetsmart ambassador, Morgan Evans
‘I think it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to have such a huge captive audience of young people and to be able to speak in front of them is a privilege. It’s always a very emotional time for me to share my brother’s story but I’m equally proud to share his story about his gift of donation and it’s a beautiful crowd to share it with.’
Do you get the opportunity to meet the students afterwards?
‘Quite often when they’re leaving I’m able to have a chat to them. The students will come up and approach me and thank me for sharing Ashley’s story. Sometimes they’ll share their own personal stories in return about how donation may have touched their lives or their involvement with organ and tissue donation. Generally they come up and thank me for sharing with them. They’re a really lovely group of teenagers.
‘Today when I was presenting my story, the kids clapped about my new son Ashton being born. It was pretty emotional for me. It took me back. I wasn’t expecting it. It is very special – the birth of Ashton being on the anniversary of Ashley’s accident. It’s a pretty special time and the fact that he’ll never meet his uncle but we will always be able to share his story with him. It was beautiful and for the students in the audience to acknowledge that anniversary and Ashton’s birth was really special to me.’
How do you think that ties in to the whole message about giving life?
‘It’s way too close to not acknowledge the fact that as life is lost that there is always that potential there to give a second chance at life to other people who are unwell. It just emphasises the fact that it’s a huge big circle that goes on and if we can help that circle last just that little bit longer for some people than that’s an incredible thing for some people to do.’
Did you feel that with Ashton’s birth in a way?
‘Absolutely! He’s definitely a little gift from above.’
Rachael Martin, sister of Formula One race car driver Ashley Cooper. Ashely died from severe head and internal injuries after a high speed racing accident at the Clipsal 500 meeting in Adelaide in February 2008. Rachael just gave birth to her son Ashton and is also an ambassador for Donate Life.
Isabelle: ‘The re-enactment was very confronting but very effective at the same time. The real life stories after the re-enactment had a huge impact especially the one of the girl that was in a car crash and just how it can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter – you’re not immune to anything.’
Melissa : ‘It was really confronting. They didn’t think that it would happen but it did. The most confronting part was the way that the dead girl (in the re-enactment) was just lying there and they didn’t even pay attention to her. The real life stories as well – especially the lady’s story. It was pretty powerful.’
Tory: ‘It was very confronting. It was very inspirational. I learnt a lot. It really got to me. I realised how serious it is and how high the chances are of that happening if you do the wrong thing. I’ll definitely be a safe driver forever. I’m never going to risk anything and not take chances of anything happening.’
Isabelle, Melissa and Tory, students at bstreetsmart event
‘The videos before the re-enactment showed how lots of things can cause death on the roads. As the narrator was talking about the accident it wasn’t just speeding or being over the limit or looking at a photo on a phone, it could be any or all of those things. There are heaps of things that can cause an accident.’
Sam, student at bstreetsmart event
‘The most powerful message that struck home with them was that their actions lead to a consequence. The death of one of the passengers really hit home for a lot of the kids. We do a driver education course so bstreetsmart fits in beautifully with that course.’
Damien: ‘It’s been really good. The kids really enjoy it. I often think when they think of accidents they don’t actually think of what happens afterwards so I think they’ve really learnt from it. Their attentiveness to the re-enactment was incredible. They were really quiet and it was really sinking in. At first they were a bit excited but then they were really quiet so you can tell it really had an impact on them.
‘The first year I came to bstreetsmart, it really made me think about my own driving and how to keep safe as well as the skills we need to teach the kids. It just sunk in what can actually happen in a car accident and who it affects. It’s not just the police or the ambulance, you’ve got the fire brigade plus the people that work in hospitals. The impact that has on all of the people is big.
‘The main message we teach our students is to be safe. The car can easily kill people and cause accidents so think about it before you jump in that seat.’
Steve and Damien, PDHPE teachers at MacKillop Catholic College Warnervale