Driving, being safe and a moment of reflection

I ended up speaking to a guy yesterday who had just (through no fault of his own) been in an accident with a motorbike a couple of hours before.  He was in his car and the bike, coming the other way took a sharp corner too fast and came into his lane.

The guy was visibly shaken, though unhurt, and I guess spoke to me as some kind of release as I don’t know him and I think I was about the first person post police station who he spoke to. 

The guy on the bike apparently had bones sticking out his legs in open fractures and was in a bad way.  The guy I was speaking to (I have no idea of his name) said “You never think t will happen to you till it does” and it reminded me of something I read back in 2007 that in some respect has stuck with me since then.  Did reading it make me a better driver, I dont know, but its a sobering reminder that we need to stay alert on the roads, not just for our sake but for the other ‘unknown’ people we share the road with.

I have copied it as it was written from the forum where I read it oringinally (a side conversation that grew on a sports forum) I have left the names of the people in as that is how I read it and hopefully it will be seen in the respectful way I mean it to be reproduced.

Four years ago today, my father died. He was 71 and had cancer of the pancreas. We knew the end was near for him, but it came more quickly than expected.
When the call came it was too late in the day for me to catch a ferry or flight south, so I booked in on the early Harris crossing and went to bed.

At 6 a.m. I learnt that he’d died at 3.

The journey down was routine enough. Fair weather through Skye, Fort William, Crianlarich then, I thought, Glasgow and onto his home near Motherwell, a trip I have been making since childhood.
But, as I drove south down the windy upper reaches of Loch Lomond, I approached a sharp corner and was passed by one, then another motorbike travelling northwards at speed. About 10 yards on, as I began to slow for the bend, a third bike appeared. The driver was fighting the pull, having taken the corner too fast. To my left was a crash barrier, a wooded drop and the loch. To my right, more trees and a steep hill. The best I could do was to brake hard. As I did my thought was, quite simply, “He’s f*cked.”

What I could do wasn’t enough. The biker slewed further into my lane and hit the ground, slamming low into the front of my car with a short, loud, metalic bang.
I estimate my speed at 30 -35 mph. His is harder to gauge. It is enough to say there were barely seconds between his appearance and disappearance.

The impact threw him and his bike backward and he landed in the centre of the road.

My door was jammed by the smash, so I climbed out of the passenger’s. The road behind was straight for a half mile and I could see the second biker had stopped. I waved both arms and he started to return, at which point I went to the body in the road. Blood streamed from the helmet.

The second biker dismounted and I asked him to find a house and phone for help, but the man in the road was his friend so he rushed to his side. Another biker appeared, not one of the three, and he called the emergency services on his mobile while I returned to the injured man. At about this point an HGV travelling north pulled up, so closing the main route on the west coast of Scotland for the next five hours.

Some years ago I took a basic first aid course so, with little better knowledge the man’s friend, I tended to the body in the road. The blood I’d seen was flowing from his mouth. I presume his crushed rib cage had punctured his lungs as it was bright red and oxygenated. To our amazement, we heard him breath, gargling and bubbling through the blood – but he breathed. As his blood pressure dropped the flow diminished, but I realised that the way he had landed was causing him to drown in his own blood. We took the decision to gently rotate him until the camber of the road facilitated the clearing of his air passages, draining the trachea of the now darkening blood.
It was obvious that he wan’t getting enough oxygen but the lower part of his full-faced helmet prevented giving artificial respiration and to remove the helmet could have been fatal in itself, especially if the neck or spinal chord were damaged – and if it were possible at all.

For twenty minutes that bloke and I nursed his friend. His name was Graeme Nicholson. He was 29, married but with no kids. He’d passed his test one week before, and bought his bike, a 500cc Japanese chrome mountain, that very day.

The first motorbiker eventually returned, having at last realised he’d lost his friends, but he kept a distance. I was just aware of the large man in black leathers screaming, waving his arms, utterly distraught, being comforted by halted travellers. That was quite scary.

Every so often Graeme would blink. Every minute he would gasp a gurgling breath. At one stage I had to remove a blood clot the size and colour of a piece of liver from his mouth. I can see it now, sat drying in a puddle of claret.

After fifteen minutes or so, rubberneckers appeared for a gander, to see why their journeys had come to such an inexplicable halt. B@stards.
Then a student nurse joined us, but so early in her studies as to be of little practicle help, but she joined us in our words of encouragement to Graeme, to hold on until help came, to fight for his life.

For me, this continued for twenty five minutes until a dentist arrived. He obviously knew more than me, so I stepped back and looked at the scene before me on this beautiful, sunny day in Spring, the day another Graham, my father, had died. While I’d missed one Graham’s death, I seemed destined to be present at another’s.
It was then a Glaswegian voice called to me, “Man, yer lookin’ awfy pale. Come awa an’ have some water. You’re in shock, bud.”
“Yeah,” I thought, “I probably am.” So I took his advice, and his water, and stood looking on as the dentist did what little he could.
“Them guys passed us not five minutes before we stopped an’ I said to ma mate, “those boyz is headin’ fer trouble riding like that.” An’ I’ll tell the po-lice than when they come.”, he said.
He gave me his address, in case I should need a witness. He was a runty, wee, ex-army man. He had common sense and kindness and I thank him for it still.

It was about now that Graeme Nicholson’s heart stopped beating and the dentist had no option but to attempt mouth to mouth. They tried to remove his helmet, but the impact with my car had caused his head to swell and no amount of pulling would remove it.

It was then that he died in the middle of the road.

Minutes after that the police arrived, having had to come over twenty miles from Dumbarton. I put myself in their hands, in time asking to sit in their car to escape the gawp and inanities of the ‘tourists’.

When there had been little to do but make Graeme as comfortable as possible I had fetched a travel rug from my car, and for the next two hours I sat looking at the tartan-shrouded body lying in the road while first the ambulance, then the police accident specialists, arrived.
I let myself cry a little then.

The police were very good with me. Very early on one of them told me, “Listen, Mr. Barlow, there is nothing, nothing you could have done about this. Don’t go thinking that if you’d stopped for a cuppa for 5 minutes back there none of this would have happened. That does no good.”
It was so obvious to their experienced eyes that there was no way I could have evaded him without jeopordising myself, or anyone else who might have been behind him. In fact, they forgot to breathalyse me until I said I was suprised they hadn’t! Of course, I passed.
At one point we even had a giggle, after they had reported to base that “the motorcyclist was pronounced dead at the scene by a dentist at ….” When his partner sniggered at the incongruity of it, I did, too. Weird how we survive, eh?

Three hours after the impact I was able to leave the scene. The police ran me to a hotel at Tarbet, from where I could phone my brother and explain where I was. Several whiskys later he picked me up and took me to my late father’s house and the madness therein …. but that’s another story!

The point of all this, and the tears I’ve shed writing it four years after the event, is this:

It is too easy to take our cars and bikes for granted.
So many posts here and on the other two ‘car’ threads have talked of speeding; cutting up idiot middle-laners to teach them a lessen; doing what we want rather than what we know is right ….. and on and on.

Well, I’m telling you, my friends, for months after as I put my head to the pillow I saw that bike hitting me. Heard it time and time again. It took me a year and a half to feel like the man I was before the crash. I’m still overly emotional at times. I still shrink when I hear a motorbike scream down the road. I can’t look at one without seeing dead Graeme Nicholson in the middle of the bloody road ….

Yet I count myself lucky. Had he not been going so fast, had he not hit me so low, he would have been through my windscreen and into my face and I would not be typing this now. And two mothers would be mourning their loss on the fourth of the fourth, two thousand and three, not just one.

So, playmates, please, raise your glasses in the memory of Dr. Graham Francis Barlow and Mr. Graeme Nicholson who both died this day in 2003.

And – for a while, at least – at every junction, every manoevere you make, look again for anything you may have missed – or for what may not be missing you! Our lives are so much more fragile than we care to think.

Be safe, eh? No risk is worth a life.


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