4 O'CLOCK KNOCK

25 Oct 2004, 06:22:13 PM

Reporter: Adene Cassidy

It's the knock every parent dreads - a late night police call, a knock on the front door to tell you your child is dead - killed in a car crash.

It was midnight on the 13th of September last year when the lights of a police car in Paula Vassallo's driveway caught her eye.

"I don't remember making it from the bedroom to the door, I just remember opening the door and saying don't you tell me and he just said to me I'm sorry he's gone, they told me he died instantly, that he died of a broken neck."

Her youngest child David was 16, the passenger in a car driven by his 17 year old mate, a P Plater who'd been driving for just seven weeks.

"The boy was speeding, he was doing nearly double the speed that he was supposed to be doing, it was a 60 speed zone he didn't handle the bend properly and put my David into a tree."

"I just think it's massively wrong that we as a community seem to accept that 17 to 25 year olds are massively over represented in the road toll and road trauma statistics generally" says Frank.

Frank Bottomely's step son was nearly one of these statistics. As a teenager he was involved in a horrific crash but miraculously walked free. It changed Frank's life.

The experience turned him into a passionate campaigner. For the past five years he's juggled his day job with organising road safety seminars - Stop the four o'clock knock. He travels the country trying to spread the right safety messages to teenage drivers and their parents.

"It was only ever going to be a one off seminar in Bateman's Bay because I wanted to do something for the local community."

Using his own resources, and limited funding, Frank has co-ordinated a seminar involving the people at the forefront of road trauma. Not just the victims but those who can share their own shocking stories. The police, the fire crews, ambulance officers, nurses and surgeons who all desperately want to save the lives of young drivers.

"They're the ones who have to help the doctors put the bodies back together and they have to help the rehabilitation process of those that are badly injured, we have to remember for every one that's killed in a car crash there are 4 or 5 that are maimed for life."

While road crashes are the leading cause of death among young people, Frank Bottomley wants to remind us of the survivors, the victims left behind to deal with brain injuries and permanent spinal damage.

The four o'clock knock campaign also has the support of local hospitals, director of trauma at Royal North Shore, Dr Steve Leibman.

"They are demanding patients to care for and they use up a lot of resources and staff unfortunately because of the nature of the illness. I see trauma as an illness, the nature of it is actually 15 to 16% of these patients will actually die."

Inspector Bob McGhee has been in the police force for 26 years. He's lost count of the number of fatal accident scenes he's attended, he believes the four o'clock knock campaign is an honest way of dealing with young drivers.

"I think any policeman that attends the fatal accident and has the responsibility of telling a parent never forgets, it sticks in your head for the rest of your life."

"To Stop the Four o'clock knock I don't think we can but we can minimise it by way of young people slowing down and taking control of their car and hopefully, hopefully we will minimise it."

Traditionally police road campaigns have targeted speed, alcohol, seatbelts and fatigue, but Frank Bottomley believes for teenagers the focus is different, inexperience, over confidence, risk taking and peer pressure all contribute to alarming statistics which show 32% of road trauma is represented by drivers aged between 17 and 25.

Clinical psychologist Amanda Gordon draws from her own experiences as a mother of a teenager.

"I think if you set out guidelines for your teenager, rules as to what they can and can't do, how many passengers and who they can drive with, you have a lot more control."

While 18 year old Jessica doesn't have her license, she abides by house rules, not to travel with more than one passenger, to keep the music down and to refuse a ride if she feels unsafe.

Despite countless campaigns and recent publicity, the road toll for young drivers isn't improving, and you have to wonder if preaching to teenagers is having any effect, but Frank Bottomley believes if he can save just one life, he's done his job.

For further information regarding the 4 O'Clock Knock, Frank Bottomley can be contacted on 0412 127 449