“It was like putting on a 100-kilogram backpack”.
That’s how Peter Frazer described the sudden, overwhelming force that threw him to the ground when he was told by two sobbing police officers his daughter Sarah had been killed at the side of the Hume Highway in NSW on February 15, 2012.
Sarah was driving to Wagga Wagga from the Blue Mountains to begin a photography course at Charles Sturt University – a journey which she had delayed so that she could join her brother’s 21st birthday celebrations – when she broke down on the Hume Highway near Mittagong, 100km south of Sydney.
Worried at the lack of space in the emergency lane – which was only 1.5 metres wide – and the steep drop to a creek on the other side of the barrier, she called her father.
“She was highly distressed... she physically couldn’t get off that road. She was actually trapped,” Mr Frazer told Yahoo News Australia.
But Mr Frazer was in a work meeting and she was only able to leave him a voicemail. She explained dozens of trucks were passing her “just centimetres away” and she was worried she could be hit.
By the time Mr Frazer tried to call her back, she and the arriving tow-truck driver had been fatally struck by a passing truck which had smashed into them.
Sarah was just 23.
“I continued to try and ring but of course by the time I’d rang back, Sarah had been killed and her phone was going straight through to voicemail.”
Sarah’s sister had also been trying to contact her but with no luck. She was the first to hear of the devastating incident when she spotted Sarah’s car in television footage from the Channel 10 helicopter.
Oblivious to Sarah’s death, Mr Frazer arrived home to news that his “beautiful” daughter’s life had been cruelly taken from him.
“She was one of the smartest, funniest, adventurous people I’ve ever met,” Mr Frazer recalled to Yahoo News Australia.
Photography and helping others were her main passion in life. She’d managed to combine the two in a recent trip to Brazil where she volunteered at an orphanage.
“Photography was her love... she wanted to become a photo journalist,” Mr Frazer said, noting the children and local inhabitants of a small community outside of Sao Paulo had proven to be the perfect subjects for her ever-growing collection of images.
He revealed she couldn’t wait to get started on her photography course and had been sharing her extensive portfolio with one of the professors at Charles Sturt for years before her enrolment.
Mr Frazer said the head lecturer of the course contacted the family in the wake of Sarah’s death with a “beautiful” tribute to her.
“He said she was the best student he’d never had,” he said.
Family creates group to put an end to ‘preventable’ deaths on roads
As Mr Frazer and his family struggled to come to terms with Sarah’s death, they were certain they weren’t going to let her die in vain and were desperate to make a difference to ensure nobody else lost their lives in preventable circumstances.
Two days after Mr Frazer faced the unimaginable task of identifying Sarah at Goulburn morgue, the family were sitting together when her brother Ben spoke up.
“He said: ‘we have to do something about what has happened and we have to have something in Sarah’s memory’,” Mr Frazer recalled.
It was Ben’s idea to create a road safety campaign group under the fitting acronym of SARAH (Safer Australian Roads And Highways).
“To this day, I can’t make an acronym out of anyone else’s name if I tried,” Mr Frazer said.
Headed by Mr Frazer, their two main goals for SARAH Group were simple.
Firstly they wanted to ensure all Australian roads were built to the specifications state governments set themselves, which would mean all emergency lanes on highways – unlike the lane Sarah pulled in to – don’t put passengers, first call service personnel and emergency service personnel in danger.
Secondly they wanted drivers to slow down and move over when passing broken down vehicles and those attending.
To Mr Frazer’s disbelief, the support from the wider community was remarkable.
Three months after Sarah’s death, they had submitted a petition of 23,000 signatures calling for the NSW government to make significant changes to the National Road Rules and for the introduction of a Sarah’s Law – also known as ‘Slow Down, Move Over’.
The movement was now starting to gather significant pace. Mr Frazer recalled the memory of tying a yellow ribbon – Sarah’s favourite colour – to his car the day of her wake.
It wasn’t long before the community began adding yellow ribbons to their own vehicles in an unprompted sign of solidarity.
This then spread across NSW and then across the nation. The day they submitted their petition at Parliament House weeks later, NSW firies were outside sporting yellow ribbons on their vehicles.
“That’s when this emerged as a national campaign for road safety under a yellow ribbon symbol which we had created,” Mr Frazer recalled.
For Mr Frazer their work was starting to uncover the “hidden” statistics behind road deaths and injuries.
Every year about 1,200 people die and 38,000 are seriously injured on Australian roads. In 2018, the death toll stood at 1,146, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics revealed.
“It’s extreme yet it’s all hidden.. it certainly was to a very large extent from me before I started doing this work.”
SARAH Group main catalyst for major road rule introduction
Their work was gradually gaining traction and the SARAH group was quickly becoming the face of road safety across the country.
Seven-and-a-half years after Sarah’s death, their continued campaigning was eventually vindicated in NSW with the introduction of Sarah’s Rule.
In September, the Slow Down, Move Over rule was introduced following a 12-month trial period in a moment Mr Frazer described as “special”.
Motorists are required to slow down to 40km/h when in 80 zones or lower when passing emergency vehicles, tow trucks and breakdown assistance vehicles – a group of responders that weren’t included in the initial trial.
For Mr Frazer, the addition of tow trucks and breakdown assistance vehicles was vital – a move Tony King, president of the Police Association of New South Wales, also hailed.
“Through the trial it has been made abundantly clear that people need to apply more common sense when they are passing stationary emergency vehicles, and the Police Association welcomes the expansion in the setting of new rules to include tow trucks and breakdown assistance trucks,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“Any flashing lights – blue, red or yellow – should be an obvious cue for drivers to slow down to safe and reasonable speeds that don’t put our members who are attending roadside incidents at risk.”
Forgiving the ‘selfish’ driver who took his daughter’s life
When asked how he initially found the strength to spearhead the campaign in the wake of his daughter’s death and continue to do so years after, Mr Frazer told Yahoo News Australia the memory of Sarah and what she stood for meant he had to continue what she had begun.
“She’s my inspiration. What she wanted to do in life was to make the lives of other people better,” he said.
Mr Frazer’s and his family’s character and desire to better peoples’ lives was epitomised in their handling of the court case of the man convicted of dangerous driving causing the deaths of Sarah and the tow-truck driver.
“The young man was belting his head against the glass partition, his girlfriend beside him crying her eyes out and my youngest daughter Bec went over to comfort her and I instinctively followed,” Mr Frazer said of the moment he was about to be sentenced.
“I looked at this man in tears going to jail for killing two people. It’s not something he set out to do but his actions were absolutely culpable... but he looked like one of my sons.
“I hugged him and I forgave him.
“I don’t forgive for a moment what he did, his selfish behaviour took my daughter’s life, but he had not intended to do that that day.”
Reflecting on the trauma his family suffered in the wake of Sarah’s death, Mr Frazer is insisted they avoid blaming others for their ongoing pain that they have learned to carry and ultimately channel it to reach their desired goal of safer roads around the country.
“Our legs are stronger and our backs are stronger and that’s why we can do this, but it’s still 100 kilos everyday.”
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