Two years after losing her brother in a tragic road accident, a Sunderland teenager is appealing to North East drivers and pedestrians to be road aware this winter.
Rehanna Hayes, 18, from Ryhope in Sunderland – whose 12-year old brother Matthew was fatally struck by a bus as he made his way home from school – is leading a campaign that it is hoped will save lives, almost two years to the day since her younger brother was killed. Miss Hayes, who works in Greggs, has made the heartfelt appeal during national charity Brake’s Road Safety Week – which begins today [Monday, November 23], to try to keep drivers and pedestrians safe, as the darker nights take hold.
Miss Hayes, who lives with her parents, said her life has been shattered by the loss of her brother, and has urged the North East public to avoid taking the same risks that cost her brother his life.
She said: “We were all heartbroken to lose Matthew. The house is just not the same without him here. I don’t think any of us will ever get over his death.
“Matthew was really brainy. He was a really sensible boy, but people take risks everyday without even realising they’re doing it. I definitely behave differently around roads now. I take my time. I look for crossings. I never take chances. It sounds simple, but it can be the difference between life and death. Matthew’s death made me realise that you can make one mistake and lose everything. It’s that easy.”
Matthew had been making his way home from Venerable Bede Secondary School when he ran out in front of a single decker bus, that was making its way along a busy road that runs through the Sunderland village. He was killed instantly. What made Matthew run out in front of the bus is still unclear, but assistant coroner for Sunderland, Karin Welsh, recorded a verdict of accidental death, pointing out that the bus driver could take no responsibility for the accident, having driven in an exemplary manner.
“The woman who knocked Matthew down was not to blame. But what happened will probably haunt her for the rest of her life. It must be horrendous to live with the fact that the bus she was driving killed my brother and my mam and dad’s son. But we don’t blame her. It was an accident. An awful accident. It would be nice to think that something positive could come from it, if Matthew’s death means that one fewer person takes a risk on the road – as a driver or just someone walking somewhere,” said Rehanna.
This year’s national road safety week begins the day after the anniversary of Matthew’s death and is designed to raise awareness of ways pedestrians and drivers can stay safe on UK roads. Supported locally by Sunderland City Council, the week reminds people of the things they can do to ensure that they steer clear of danger and reduce the risk of being involved in a road accident.
Councillor Michael Mordey, Cabinet Member for City Services at Sunderland City Council, said that the council is throwing its weight behind Rehanna’s bid to promote road safety, in the hope that people in the city will realise the tragic consequences road traffic accidents can have.
Coun Mordey said: “Rehanna is an incredibly brave young lady, for lending her voice to a campaign that really strikes close to her heart.
“The loss of someone so young is an absolute tragedy, and with Rehanna – at just 18 years of age – sharing such a heartbreaking story, I am sure people in the city and wider region will begin to appreciate just how painful losing a loved one in these circumstances can be, but – perhaps more importantly – I am sure Rehanna’s story will influence people’s behaviour, and will play a part in ensuring that Sunderland continues to see the number of road traffic injuries sustained each year reduce.”
He added: “The more that we share messages about how to stay safe on the road, whether you are crossing as a pedestrian or behind the wheel, the better chance we have of preventing another tragic death, like young Matthew’s. If Rehanna’s story makes people do nothing else, I hope at the very least it will encourage people to log online and just take a second to read how they can stay safe on the road.”
As part of the campaign, Sunderland City Council will be posting advice online and through its social media account – @SunderlandUK on Twitter – to help people walking and drivers who are making their way through busy streets in the area, to stay safe.
Most child pedestrian casualties occurred on the journey home from school, and with dark mornings and nights ahead, the risk of collisions can be increased with October and November peak months for accidents of this kind.
In the Northumbria Police area, there were more than 4,400 road user casualties in 2014. This was seven percent higher than in 2013. Of these casualties, 453 were either killed or seriously injured, and large increases – over ten per cent more than 2013 – in total casualty numbers were seen by car occupants, young people, older people, and on non-built up roads.
“I see people – young lads – playing chicken and running out in front of cars, trying to avoid them by inches for fun. They don’t realise that it’s not just themselves they could hurt, but it is all of the people who are left behind – like we were when we lost Matthew. And think about the driver of the car, and how they would feel,” said Rehanna.
To find out more about how to stay road safe – both as a pedestrian or a driver, visit www.sunderland.gov.uk/road-safety or to spread the word about Road Safety Week – which runs from 23-29 November, use the hastag #RoadSafeSund on social media.