Monument of shoes: Memories of loved ones lost in road crashes

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Losing her 25-year-old son, Aron in a bus crash in Turkey in 1995 was the tragic experience Rochelle Sobel is yet to get over, but that tragic incident just made her determined in advocating for safer roads for road users.

“On May 3, 1995, our lives were shattered by a phone call that is every parent’s most unspeakable nightmare. A dispassionate voice that identified himself as a member of the U.S State Department informed me that my 25-year-old son, Aron, had died in a crash in Turkey.

“Aron was a University of Maryland Medical School student who was completing his final rotation by volunteering in a hospital abroad.

“Aron was the essence of enthusiasm, kindness, unshakable optimism, intelligence and social responsibility. He exhibited an overwhelming concern for every human being; he was loyal to friends and devoted to family. And, oh, that luminous, dimpled fun-loving smile that lit up the world of everyone he encountered.

“When we lost our child, we lost our tomorrow. Our hopes, dreams and trust in the world were shattered in an instant. For us, there are two-time frames: the time before the crash and the time after.

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“Often, we become paralysed as we touch the photographs, acknowledge the birthday and attempt to negotiate the minefield of achingly beautiful memories. At times, we must force ourselves to breathe, for each breath seems like an insurmountable challenge”, she said.

Placing the shoe of her son to the pile of shoes set up as a monument of those who lost their lives in road crashes, Sobel declared that she and other road safety advocates will not rest until the roads are safe for the people to use.

Visibly crying when she placed the shoe of her son who had been gone for over five years, she hoped that a time will come when all sound of the shoes will be that of the loved ones who left home and returned back safely.

Peter Fraiser was another parent who placed the shoes of his daughter on the pile of shoes; Peter had lost his daughter, Sarah, in 2012 to a distracted driver because the highway she was trapped in the road she was in, the father still missed her cute, mischievous smile and hugs each time he returned home. It would be a long time before he forgets her.

“My daughter was killed by a distracted driver. The road she was walking on was not built with a specification. The road had three lines at 110 kilometers per hour and the emergency lighting was 1.5 meters wide, not even wide enough to get a car in there. There was a barrier running beside it for one-and-a-half kilometers on the other side filled down into literally into a little river with bangles. My daughter was trapped on that road and eventually killed by a person who was distracted.”

Placing the pink shoes of her daughter on the pile, Zoleka Mandela recalled how her daughter was not allowed to enjoy her teenage years as she was killed by a drunk driver shortly after her 13th birthday.

The monument of shoes displayed in the Central Station in Stockholm, Sweden was a showcase of sorrow and the pain of a lot of people who have lost their loved ones to road traffic crashes which are preventable.

Though preventable, every 24 seconds, someone, somewhere in the world did as a result of a road traffic crash which gives rise to 1.35 million people each year and behind these individual tragedies is a story.

There are stories of tears, stories of struggle, stories of the pain of losing a loved one, the pain of losing a part of the body, of not being complete, pain of being thrown into poverty.

Road crashes affect everyone either personally or through someone related or known, in the form of death, injury, disability or fear.

Road crashes have caused negative consequences that are common in the blow and medium-income countries and have left a lot of road users to feel unsafe on the road.

The pile of shoes, which is an idea of the Global Alliance of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for Road Safety, which is a global umbrella network for non-governmental organisations committed to advocating for safer roads and victim support, was meant to draw the attention of governments and international communities to the physical effects of road safety crash.

They hope seeing the piles of shoes which had been a sight and placed strategically in the central station during the 3rd Ministerial Global Conference on Road Safety in Sweden will give them the political will to implement laws that would aim to reduce road traffic crashes and injuries in their countries.

Rochelle Sobel, who had a little speech before placing the shoes of her son said the shoes displayed are shoes of young and old from many countries that illustrate the shattered dreams of families and those whose lives have been cut down by this tragic incident.

“Shoes of young and old, shoes of many countries that accompany broken shattered dreams, shoes that once walked or danced or skipped or played were being cut down cruelly in a single moment on the road.

“These shoes are now on the earth, they are unmoving and frozen in time. Shoes that took first steps, shoes that took a child to school, that took a rush to catch a ball, that walked down the Isles, shoes that left to catch tomorrow in the wind.

These shoes are now our sacred monument to what was and would never be again.

“With resolute hearts, we place our loved one’s shoes on the pile and repeat the vow we made to them and to ourselves; we will never rest, neither will we be silent, for these shoes are our sacred promise that the time that would soon come when all shoes will bear the precious weight of loved ones returning safely home. For all of our children and all of our loved ones, let us place our precious shoes upon the pile.”

In its report entitled “The Day our World Crumbled: The Human Cost of Inaction on Road Safety”, the Global Alliance for NGOs for Road Safety called on politicians to take urgent action to reduce the burden of road crashes in their citizens, urging governments to commit funds for Road Safety delivery and adopt safe system approach.

“Road and transport systems must both be and feel safe for road users. They just, especially, meet the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists who are most at risk and feel the most unsafe.

“Speeding is the most common reason people feel unsafe and is a major cause of crashes; tackle speed to make road users safer and feel safer.”

The Alliance also called for the improvement of safety net for crash victims and their loved ones while urging activists to engage their communities and amplify their voices to advocate for change that will make the road system safe and align with a safe system.


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