Im­me­di­ate Im­pact

The TAC’s new up-close se­ries about road ac­ci­dents has al­ready di­vided opin­ion, writes Colin Vick­ery

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ROAD ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion and preven­tion pro­gram Sud­den Im­pact has been swamped by con­tro­versy be­fore it has even gone to air.

The eight-part show, nar­rated by Gary Sweet, has been fully funded by Vic­to­ria’s Trans­port Ac­ci­dent Com­mis­sion, lead­ing to ac­cu­sa­tions pub­lic funds are be­ing used in­ap­pro­pri­ately.

Re­ports swept the me­dia in May that Sud­den Im­pact was bud­geted at $4 mil­lion. A Her­ald Sun ed­i­to­rial said: ‘‘Some TAC in­sid­ers are be­lieved to be ap­palled at the fund­ing when hun­dreds of road vic­tims are await­ing com­pen­sa­tion from the com­mis­sion.’’ In­ter­net blog­gers are di­vided. ‘‘Or­gan­i­sa­tions like the TAC should stay out of com­mer­cial TV pro­duc­tion’’ says one. An­other coun­tered that the show is ‘‘a new way to pro­mote their valu­able road safety mes­sages to the pub­lic’’.

TAC boss David Healy has hit back, say­ing fig­ures are wrong and crit­i­cisms mis­guided.

‘‘Cer­tainly, from our view­point, no apolo­gies,’’ Healy says. ‘‘The cost is un­der $1 mil­lion in to­tal and my un­der­stand­ing is that the costs are the equiv­a­lent to the pro­duc­tion of one (TAC) tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial.

‘‘On that ba­sis, we’re get­ting four hours of tele­vi­sion cov­er­age (for the same price) at a time when road trauma costs the Vic­to­rian com­mu­nity a min­i­mum of $3.5 bil­lion ev­ery year.

He says Sud­den Im­pact is a le­git­i­mate and po­ten­tially in­flu­en­tial way for the TAC to pro­mote the im­pact of crashes and their af­ter­math.

Sweet, a fa­ther of four, has also de­fended the show and its road safety mes­sage.

‘‘I was re­ally pleased to be con­sid­ered and to be part of it,’’ he says. ‘‘I’ve got kids and . . . I can’t imag­ine any­thing worse than hav­ing some sort of ac­ci­dent over Christ­mas.

‘‘It’s the right time to put on the show. It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to be aware of the po­ten­tial dev­as­ta­tion on the roads and treat them with re­spect.’’

Sud­den Im­pact

takes a broader ap­proach to car crashes than Seven’s re­cent Crash In­ves­ti­ga­tion Unit.

It fol­lows paramedics to the scene of ac­ci­dents, shows the po­lice Ma­jor Col­li­sion In­ves­ti­ga­tion Unit piec­ing to­gether rea­sons for the crash, goes to hos­pi­tals to see emer­gency treat­ment in action and talks to vic­tims, fam­ily and friends about the im­pact on their lives.

An early story cen­tres on Noni Thomp­son, a 23-year-old who rolled her car at high speed along a gravel road in 2004. A sec­ond-year uni­ver­sity stu­dent at the time, she spent 80 days in a coma, was paral­ysed, blinded in one eye and left par­tially deaf.

Four years of in­tense re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion later, she is back on her feet and is shown try­ing out for Aus­tralia’s shot-put squad at the 2008 Par­a­lympic Games. Her coach John Eden says, ‘‘I’ve seen a lot of gutsy peo­ple but she’s up there with the best.’’

Sweet says: ‘‘Parts of the show are very up­lift­ing and poignant. There are some peo­ple who as a re­sult of ac­ci­dents have been left with some sort of per­ma­nent dis­abil­ity — phys­i­cal or nerve dam­age — but they’ve been able to over­come that and lead re­ally full and ex­cit­ing lives.’’

He says his own driv­ing record was vet­ted by the TAC be­fore he was hired as Sud­den Im­pact pre­sen­ter, but says there was noth­ing to fear be­cause, de­spite his action-man rep­u­ta­tion from Po­lice Res­cue and Stingers, he has a clean driv­ing record and drives ‘‘like a nanna’’.

But Sweet ad­mits that he ‘‘took a lot of risks I shouldn’t have’’ when he was younger and that ‘‘the trou­ble is that some young peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar think they are bul­let­proof’’.

‘‘The thing I did wrong was drive too long at a time,’’ he says. ‘‘We used to go away surf­ing a lot. That tired­ness — driver fa­tigue — is some­thing that creeps up on you and you don’t re­alise.’’

FA­TIGUE, speed, in­ex­pe­ri­ence, not wear­ing a seat­belt — th­ese are just some of the re­cur­ring fac­tors in the Sud­den Im­pact sto­ries. At first glance, it could sug­gest that years of multi-mil­lion dol­lar TAC ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns haven’t had an ef­fect. Peo­ple are still in­dulging in high-risk be­hav­iour on our roads.

‘‘I cer­tainly don’t think it’s a com­ment on our ad­ver­tis­ing ap­proach, but it does mean we have to try to un­der­stand what are the key me­dia for in­flu­enc­ing key at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iours,’’ Healy says.

Healy es­pe­cially hopes Sud­den Im­pact will make plain the rip­ple ef­fect of any crash. For ev­ery per­son killed (Vic­to­ria’s 2007 road toll was 332), an­other nine peo­ple are se­ri­ously in­jured, some­times for life.

‘‘Prob­a­bly about 20-plus peo­ple (in­clud­ing fam­ily and friends) are gen­er­ally af­fected by some­one be­ing in­volved in a crash,’’ he says.

Telling it like it is: Sud­den Im­pact nar­ra­tor Gary Sweet says he can’t imag­ine any­thing worse than hav­ing some sort of road ac­ci­dent at Christ­mas.

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