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