On the 19th of November, thousands of families worldwide come together to remember the loss of their dear ones, perished in a war they did not choose to fight. It is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, and in the last few years, its importance and international observance have grown exponentially, becoming a beacon of hope for change to many.
Several people have contributed to this cause and continue to do so actively in the UK and around the world but one, in particular, has given everything to it.
Brigitte Chaudhry, founder of RoadPeace – the national charity for road crash victims in the UK – and past president of the Federation of Road Traffic Victims (FEVR) has been campaigning for road victims’ rights and reduction of road danger for the last 26 years.
Agreeing to talk to Sentient Life, she disclosed her story and how it all started.
Brigitte lost her son, Mansoor, because of a road accident in south London in 1990, and that was what triggered her need for justice and campaigning against this brutal reality.
When asked how she managed to deal with her loss, Brigitte’s words were powerfully present, even after all these years.
“I was in a state of total shock, as was my daughter, then aged 15, and this probably made it possible for us to somehow live through the next weeks and months and still somehow function. But I remember that for a very long time – for several years – the shocking awareness that my son was dead hit me anew each morning on waking up.”
Brigitte’s family was denied the right to see Mansoor’s body after the accident, and this created a “feeling of unreality”, despite a funeral had in fact taken place.
“It was sometimes possible to imagine that he had only travelled abroad,” said Brigitte, “something he had been planning and looking forward to.”
“But the realities of a road death – various procedures – soon intruded. They not only had to be faced but required active participation. My involvement over many years – for example, the inquest into the death of my son was held five years later – meant that the grieving had to be postponed.”
For a long time, Brigitte was not fully aware of the complete circumstances surrounding her son’s death. But after a deep investigation, she came to know some disconcerting details.
“The driver had crossed a large junction with all lights at red while he was still 100 yards from the junction. He was not breathalysed by the police and he had convictions in both years before the year in which he killed my son.”
“When I heard that he was only going to be charged with a minor traffic offence, which totally ignored my son’s death, this was impossible for me to tolerate.”
Upon further research, I found out that this is, unfortunately, a reality in the UK road traffic system, where – for example – only 44 percent of drivers killing cyclists were recorded going to jail in 2014.
More recently, to tackle this issue, The Sun has called on an enforcement of Justice Minister Sam Gyimah’s plan according to which maximum life terms should be handed out to motorists who cause death by speeding, drink driving or using a mobile phone.
“I had been ignorant until then that this was the routine response to deaths on the road, however innocent the victim and however guilty the offender,” said Brigitte.
“When I found that there was no organisation for victims in my situation I proceeded to set one up. I made contact with other road victims through appeals in newspapers. The RoadPeace office was in my house for the first six years where I also manned the helpline seven days a week – this was the first helpline for road victims and the calls received provided the inspiration and motivation for many of the campaigns that were initiated.”
Brigitte’s full-time voluntary work on the board of RoadPeace lasted 16 years. During the last four, she was also the president of the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims, of which RoadPeace has been a member from its 2nd year now.
“The work carried out by FEVR on behalf of road victims was at European level and due to its UN consultative status also globally,” said Brigitte, “which among others led to the adoption by the UN of the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.”
Despite Brigitte and other organisations’ campaigning, however, the number of road victims in the UK is still pretty high. More than 1700 people were killed in 2013 alone. And the fact that this number is slowly going down throughout the years does not seem to be enough for Brigitte:
“I feel a certain level of satisfaction that the World Day is now known and observed in every corner of the world, but sad that so many people, with so many young among them, are added to those already being remembered on that Day.”
But campaigning was not the only dimension that helped Brigitte face such a deep loss. On a spiritual level, she said she always believed in life after death. “[After what happened], I immediately visited the College for Psychic Studies in Kensington. Regular sessions with a medium were greatly comforting [to me] and saved my sanity, I believe. I no longer see any mediums now.”
And since this connection to the “other side” and the practice of talking to mediums have helped Brigitte in her healing journey, it is useful to mention here that – regardless of your position on the matter – this discipline has proved consistently healing by psychiatrists and psychologists alike, particularly in the The Afterlife Experiments by Gary Schwartz, Ph.D.
Today Brigitte lives in her lovely house in West London, looking over her beautiful garden, cooking delicious food for her family, and after all these years, still actively campaigning.
Certain wounds never heal completely, but I could see happiness in her eyes when she was talking to her daughter and beautiful grandchildren.
On the 19th of November, thousands of families worldwide come together to remember the loss of their dear ones, perished in a war they did not choose to fight. That is a reality that has been thus for many years, until today. However, through her effort and many others, Brigitte hopes that – one day in the far future – no one will have to remember this day any longer since death itself won’t be on our roads anymore.