Forensic crash investigator Shona Hartles attended many fatal traffic crashes in her career, each one horrible and tragic in their circumstances.
Forensic crash investigator Shona Hartles attended many fatal traffic crashes in her career, each one horrible and tragic in their circumstances.

‘I remember every fatal crash’

I joined the Queensland Police Service in 1998, when I was only 20-years-old.

Shortly after leaving the academy I attended my first fatal traffic crash. I will never forget it and have never forgotten one since.

I joined the Forensic Crash Unit (FCU) in 2003, my first day was Mother's Day. I was called to attend a job before my shift had even begun. An unroadworthy vehicle, driven by an intoxicated individual mounted a footpath and killed a pedestrian, who was walking with his mother.

I have attended many fatal and serious traffic crashes in my time, and I remember each and every one of them. They're all horrible and tragic in each of their circumstances.

It's all so predictable now - FCU get called to a scene.

We attend and view the carnage and mayhem which confronts us. After the initial absorption of the scene, our first thought is almost always "this didn't need to happen" and "this was preventable".

Every serious crash police investigators attend is tragic – and almost always preventable.
Every serious crash police investigators attend is tragic – and almost always preventable.

We're then overcome by a profound sadness as to the utter waste of life and knowing what is to come - dealing with the witnesses and next of kin.

Absolutely nothing that we can say or do will ever make these people feel okay with what has happened.

So, with all the due vigilance, experience and training that we can call upon, we

investigate the scene.

We do everything that we can, to gather and record every single piece of evidence and garner every possible witness.

We then dedicate all our time and effort over the following days, weeks and months compiling evidence.

Our job is to complete either a report for the Coroner to make determination on the

cause of death or a brief of evidence to hold an accused person accountable in court

for their actions which destroyed the life or lives of another.

In between all this time, members of the FCU are being called to yet another job to do all the above again, and again, and again.

When will the madness end?

Do people really believe it will never happen to them?

One death on our roads is too many, let alone the hundreds that occur each year. Picture AAPImage/David Clark
One death on our roads is too many, let alone the hundreds that occur each year. Picture AAPImage/David Clark

It is a privilege and not a right to drive a vehicle on a road shared by so many.

It is not acceptable to get behind the wheel after you've been drinking or taking drugs and risking the happy lives of innocent people.

People who think they have gotten away with driving under the influence are playing

Russian roulette with not only their own lives but others too.

No one has the right to disregard the road rules and yet it happens daily.

Police are frustrated, no matter what they seem to do, the problem reoccurs.

Monetary fines and loss of points only seem to deter a small number, but the truly reckless and lawless don't care.

One death on Queensland roads is one too many.

If two passenger aircraft crashed in one year, and killed 200+ Queenslanders, there would be outcry and people would avoid air travel.

Yet 200+ people die on our roads every year and people continue blatantly disregard the road rules.

If change is going to occur, we must first acknowledge that any life lost on our roads

is not okay.

It is not to be accepted in any way.

The Fatal Five isn't some cheesy campaign. Almost every single road crash that I have attended over the years involved one or more of the Fatal Five.

What is extraordinarily rare is a true accident - something that could not have been reasonably prevented. I could count on one hand how many of those I have attended.

Everything else comes under the Fatal Five or deliberate and reckless behaviour.

I implore each and every road user to respect everyone else on the road.

They all have lives and loved ones, and they all just want to get home safe.

Originally published as Cop's crash nightmare: 'I remember every fatal'


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