'My son killed four people - and no, it wasn't an accident'
After the tragic Oatlands crash on Saturday night, which saw three Abdallah siblings - Antony, 13, Angelina, 12, and Sienna, eight, - and their cousin Veronique Sakr, 11, killed by an allegedly drunk driver, Melissa McGuinness says we need to change the conversation around drink driving in Australia.
LIKE everyone, my heart breaks for the Abdallah and the Sakr families. Deepest sympathy and prayers go to them as the foremost perspective on this tragedy.
Four beautiful angels taken way too soon.
I have profound respect for Mr and Mrs Abdallah, who have conducted themselves with incredible fortitude and grace in the midst of unthinkable misery. I also have some insight into the sickening circumstances of last weekend.
On December 8, 2012, my own 18-year-old son Jordan chose to drink and drug drive and speed 30 kms over the limit. His choices resulted in his own death and the deaths of four innocent young adults, who were sitting in their broken down car. Naturally my family and I were shattered by grief and also sickened to the core that our cherished Jordan had killed four people through his appalling actions.
Seeking purpose amongst the senselessness and waste, my husband Peter and I formed a not-for-profit organisation called You Choose - Youth Road Safety. Presentations began in 2017, with the mission to engage every Australian school and every Australian youth driver in the formation of an enduring social movement for changed driving behaviours.
Our interactions with many thousands of youth drivers reveal some critical factors.
Firstly, young drivers know full well what reckless driving behaviours are. Speeding, tail-gating, lane-chopping, distraction, drink, drugs. That's why awareness campaigning and lectures about safety and danger or right and wrong have limited cut-through, on their own.
There is no better example of this than my own son. A much beloved young man who was usually a responsible person. A normal teen who was certainly not raised to think that casually endangering other people's lives was acceptable. Yet he took innocent lives, knowing that his actions were wrong.
So, a major learning is that meaningful connections must be made between what reckless driving behaviours are and genuine accountability for not accepting them in themselves and others.
A second critical factor is the language of 'luck'. Young drivers are imbued with the misguided notion that reckless driving behaviours are an entrenched aspect of the maturation process. 'What can you do?...it's all part of growing up'.
The dynamic is reinforced by tired maxims such as 'We've all done it' and by data which proves neurological causes of heightened risk-taking and impulsivity in under 25s. All of which contribute to the commonly held teen myth that road trauma is just plain bad luck. That all road trauma is 'accidental'.
An 'accident' is what happened to Jordan's poor victims.
Jordan didn't have an accident. He made a choice. Of course, he wouldn't have had the slightest intent to kill anyone. But that is completely irrelevant to victims' loved ones, and indeed to his own loved ones, who were wretchedly left to live with the consequences.
'Bad Luck' and 'We've All Done It', are examples of factually wrong responses which facilitate reckless driving by dismissing the power of young drivers to make choices. It's our experience that young people are collectively better than that. Not only can they choose how they drive, but they can absolutely shape the driving behaviours of their peers.
There's every reason to be optimistic that self-sustaining social impetus can be applied to saving lives on the road. Young people can advocate good habits and proactively reject speeding, tail-gating, lane-chopping, distracted, drink and drug driving as socially repugnant.
We don't profess to have all the answers with You Choose - Youth Road Safety. Far from it.
But it is relatable. I could be any young driver's Mum. Jordan's little sisters could be any young person's brothers or sisters. Jordan's household, our lives, are no different to their theirs.
We give young drivers an unfiltered account of the permanent horror that even one reckless driving choice can cause to their loved ones and the loved ones of others.
Towards the end of our presentation, I show them a photo of me crying, taken not long after Jordan's death. And I set them a specific challenge.
"So, while you sit here absorbing what this photo behind me means to you, I'm going to set you a task.
"Every time, before you put the key into your car's ignition or before you hop into a car as a passenger, imagine that your windscreen becomes an image of your family all looking like this. Your mum, your dad and your siblings.
"You think about what it means to have your hands on that steering wheel or be sitting in that passenger seat, knowing that you are inside a dangerous weapon.
"And you remember that you are in control of the choices you make.
"Go home and talk with your loved ones about today's presentation and give them the hug that Jordan can no longer give me or his family.
"Don't make his story, your story."
The motto is Own The Choice Own The Outcome. The method is to be authentic with concepts of love, family and empowerment.
We can only try…
This story first appeared on Whimn and was reproduced with permission.