On any given day of the week we often hear News reports that a road accident which caused serious injuries or even worse, deaths, was caused by a driver having a ‘medical incident’.
Transport Departments don’t keep official statistics – but it’s thought these ‘medical incidents’ number in the thousands annually which is why one woman who nearly died after being hit by someone feeling a ‘bit fuzzy’… is mounting a campaign to help drivers recognise when they’re a danger to others and how to keep themselves and the rest of us safe.
Brian spoke with Sharon Bell about her near death experience and why she started the Hypodrive road safety program.
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Sharon Bell getting ready for the inaugural Black Tie Charity Ball
Well you can hear all the lovely traffic outside and it’s quite appropriate for what we’re going to be talking about today – it’s about road safety and we’ve got Sharon Bell – welcome to MyLife… MyStory.
Sharon, when did all this start?
Hypodrive was conceived when I was in my coma! So when you're in a coma, you do hear what's going on, and I could hear people talking about the gentleman that hit me having diabetes and how he didn't know and wasn't educated and all that sort of stuff.
So you can imagine I'm sitting there in a coma, couldn't do anything, couldn't talk, couldn't release my thoughts and my anger. But it all came out then… So I'm not angry, but it's just like you need to … yea!!
I'm actually a mother of three children. They are now adults, but at the time in 2006, I’m a mother of three so called disabled children. They have immunodeficiency disease and was requiring monthly blood transfusions in hospital.
And I was on my way to work at in the morning and was hit head on by a diabetic driver.
I was his third victim on the road and I was given a 1% chance of surviving.
So after six weeks in a coma they turned my life support off.
I woke up two weeks later and then I spent all up being in a wheelchair for six years and now 57 operations and it's ongoing and I just don’t want to see anybody else going through what I went through and what my family and friends went through.
And just because you have a medical condition doesn’t give you the right to continue to do things.
But it also you have a right to be on the road and to drive as long as you're educated and you know how to stay safe.
The gentleman that hit me said that he didn’t know what to do. Nobody ever told him, yet I was his third victim and he said he was going to try to fix himself up when he got to work, which was another 40km’s down the road.
And I spoke to Diabetes Australia about it because of him being diabetic and they said they weren’t interested in knowing about it. And they said that diabetes will never kill anybody on the road.
And I said, hang on a second!... I had a 1% chance of living!...
So backwards and forwards with them over the years. And when I started receiving awards for what I was doing and getting this message out, and they were hearing a lot of backlash saying, “Why aren't you doing something about it?” they used all of my information without my approval and promoted their own five to drive program.
They now do say that what I do. What I say is the way that it should be, but they don’t acknowledge the work that we do.
I'm gob smacked!... I really am. I’m speechless. You are such a strong woman to do that.
I would never have known that you were not able to walk. A 1% chance of living. Good on you.
So tell us what is your project all about? What are you doing? Hypo-Drives Five to Drive program.
It's a program about driver awareness while having a medical condition. It started off with just being driving for diabetes but has now expanded to all different medical conditions.
I want people to be aware of what happens on the road under conditions where they’re medically affected, whether it be by medical condition or whether it be my medication. And then if something happens, how to get off the road safely.
We've got statistics for drink, drivers and speeding. Do we have many statistics for medical conditions?
No. You hear all the time about an accident being caused due to a medical condition or someone blacked out and then all of a sudden it just gets brushed under the carpet and pushed away and nobody finds out anything else,
Yea because the blackout can be diabetes related, low blood pressure etc… so is there any government support with any of what you were trying to do?
Why not? Jump up and down!!
I don't know. I've been awarded state and national road safety awards over many years, but still nothing’s changed.
And Anastasia (Palaszczuk), when she was a transport Minister, awarded me Community Road Safety award for the state in 2011 and she thought it was a brilliant idea, what we do.
And with 100 hours of learner driver training, not 1 hour is dedicated to driving with medical conditions, the suggestion is that that gets changed and at least bring in 2 to 5 hours of medical training for people with diabetes or any medical condition.
They have ‘Keys To Drive’... I don't know who funds that, but that gives heaps of driving lessons out. What about people with medical conditions? How about supporting that?
There’s an idea that people are trying to push forward for caravan owners is that you do some kind of on-going training a little bit like medical professionals have to do continuing professional development or CPD… We don't have that with driving. You apparently get experience because you have been driving 20, 30, 40, 50 years. How can we change that?
Well, if you've got a medical condition, you have to have a medical certificate from your doctor and that gets handed into the Transport Department. You get a little ‘M’ written on your licence and that’s it as long as you supply that when it’s required. That's all you need to do.
Mine's got an ‘S’ on it for spectacles and I can get a ten year licence with no checks during that time.
Well, when I was a bit younger, I could get a ten year licence. Now it's five years!... But there you go.
So if we can get that happening for people with medical conditions, that's fine. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t know they've got a medical condition; they don’t know they've got diabetes or high blood pressure or low blood pressure. How can we fix that?
Yeah, it's all education. I'm only one person. I can't go out everywhere. I can't do everything.
So this is where I want the support and need the support to get out there
With learner drivers these days, do they have to have a medical cheque before they actually get their licence?
I don't know why not, but they should do because any sort of medical condition can affect the way you drive. Anything from asthma to heart problems. And teenagers can have those.
Epilepsy?... You can't drive. End of story, but there's all these other conditions where people are fully aware that they’re having issues and having problems, but they’re allowed to drive, but they don't get taught how to get off the road safely while having those conditions and how to treat yourself on the side of the road.
This is where we come in and we do this and we’ve been doing it for the past well since with no support from the government.
Well if you were as shocked as we were by how something as common as a ‘hypo’ - which is a diabetes low-blood sugar incident - nearly cost Sharon’s life and you’d like to help her and her many supporters to educate younger drivers on what to do when they experience a hypo, then head on over to their website – hypodrive.com.au
And if you just happen to be in the Fraser Coast area in February 2022, they are holding their inaugural charity Black Tie Masquerade Ball in Maryborough to help raise awareness and much needed funds for teenage drivers with medical conditions to gain education about road safety – details on the website.
Learner driver Robert Tutton with Sharon Bell