Schoolgirls in silent march for road safety

MOTHER, sister, uncle, daughter, brother, father — signs representing the 279 people who died in traffic accidents last year were carried through a west Cork town in a silent march yesterday by hundreds of black-clad convent schoolgirls.

Traffic came to a standstill in Skibbereen and bystanders stared, as the funereal procession of about 450 students and teachers wound its way in silence through the town.

A total of 279 of the teenagers were dressed in black and bearing signs representing each of the casualties of last year’s road carnage. They were followed by a solitary girl dressed in white, carrying a placard with the question “Will I be Next?”

“We’re here to raise awareness of the importance of road safety and the number of deaths, and to hopefully help reduce the road deaths in 2009,” said transition year teacher Orla O’Sullivan, who helped organise the dramatic lunchtime protest by pupils of the local Mercy Heights Convent Secondary School.

A group of 12 fourth-year students — each of whom has been directly affected by a road traffic accident — had been working hard on the project since September, she added.

The spectacular parade through the town centre, which drew townspeople to their doorways, and retailers from their store counters, was part of the school’s One Life One Chance project, carried out with the support of local Garda liaison officer Flor O’Driscoll.

Marchers silently followed a Garda patrol car, a fire brigade and an ambulance through the town to a local sports centre for a public meeting about road safety.

Transition year student Rebecca Ferguson, 17, said: “We decided on this topic because each member of the group felt strongly about road safety, either from personal experience of a road traffic accident or from a strong interest in the topic. We wanted to create a stronger awareness of road safety.”

Clonakilty-based Garda Supt Pat Maher said any initiative to promote road safety was appreciated and supported by gardaí: “It’s great that we have transition year students taking on this subject. It’s unusual for people of this age to take road safety as a project in transition year.”

A cheque for €2,500 was presented to the ambulance service on behalf of the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire at the public meeting addressed by members of the emergency services, the gardaí, the road safety authority and others.

In their words: Student views

“What Road Safety means to me...”

Sarah Beavon, 17: Road safety is an important issue for me as I am now the holder of a provisional licence. I have learned from our studies that many people don’t wear their seatbelt, don’t secure children in child restraint seats properly and put dogs in a travelling carrier and so these things become distractions to drivers.

Also many national roads have a speed limit of 100km/h but these roads are not suitable for this speed and so are a danger to people who this road is unknown to.

Emma Kelleher, 16: I think road safety is a very important and significant issue for everybody. To me it’s about behaving responsibly on the roads and making the right choices for our own safety as road users. Too many people are being killed and injured on our roads every year and too many families suffer terrible losses. It’s about everybody working together to really improve their behaviour on the roads and dramatically reducing the number of senseless, early deaths.

Stephanie Deasy, 16: Road safety means a lot to society today as there were 279 people killed on Irish roads last year. People drinking mostly caused these accidents and taking drugs before driving or people going over the speed limit.

Many people have been affected by car accidents. Some people in this group have been affected as their family members have been in a car accident.

This personally has affected me. One member of my family was in a car accident.

Due to the terrific work the fire brigade, ambulance and the doctors do today, she is still alive. The safety belt in your car is to be worn; it’s not there for a decoration. It could save your life.

Edel Cormac, 16: The one thing that will stand out for me is how a seatbelt can be the difference between life and death. I’ve always worn a seatbelt and always thought that if a person didn’t wear a seatbelt in the event of an accident they’d be thrown out of a car and killed. But I’ve also learned that if you don’t wear a seatbelt properly it could result in serious injury or even death.

So wear a seatbelt flat on your hips and have it resting on the hard of your shoulders.

Don’t have it up high near the neck or under the arm.

Road safety means taking care on the roads and being aware of the many dangers that are on the roads.

Rhiann McCarthy, 16: Road safety is a very important issue as we have so many people being killed on Irish roads everyday. I have a different view of road safety ever since the 27th of July, 2008, when a close family member was in a car accident. He was lucky enough to pull through after an induced coma because of a bleed in the brain.

Road safety has taken on a new meaning for me, I cannot stand to think of other families going through what my family and I went through.

Emma Harte, 16: More and more people are dying on our roads every year, so learning about road safety is of the utmost importance to all road users and everyone alike. Our aim should be to make everyone aware that by wearing seatbelts, having children safely strapped in their car seats and above all, not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol should help to reduce the number of road deaths in 2009.

For me personally, raising awareness about such an important issue is essential. It has also made me more aware of the need, when I come of age to drive, to take more care on the roads.

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