One of the few positives in the statistics of 249 Victorian traffic fatalities in 2014 is that it is less than half the death toll of 25 years ago.
The serious injury data is, however, still huge. Last year almost 4500 Victorians spent two weeks or more in hospital. Many who didn’t end up in an emergency department will carry disability or distress well beyond the day of the crash.
For three decades, RACV has been providing critical funding to support Victorian allied health researchers seeking new ways to prevent crashes, improve treatment and rehabilitation of the injured, and find viable and valuable links between services.
The Sir Edmund Herring Scholarship, established in 1983 as a memorial to a remarkable Victorian who was patron of RACV for 34 years, has funded an extraordinary range of projects that, as many recent recipients note, would not have been possible otherwise.
Epworth Hospital rehabilitation occupational therapist Pam Ross gained a scholarship in 2009 to improve knowledge of how drivers who have suffered a traumatic brain injury fared when they returned to driving. “There was not a lot of research previously,” Pam says.
Her study confirmed that a less intense post-crash approach to getting back behind the wheel helped drivers be safer: “They drove not as far, more slowly and less frequently at night.”
The scholarship also boosted Pam’s research skills and six year on, as a member of another team from Monash University, she is involved with another Herring scholarship-funded project that will investigate whether using a driving simulator helps amputees and stroke sufferers get back to driving.
Megan Ballantyne, RACV’s manager of Community Programs and Events, says almost $2.5 million has been distributed to support studies and rehabilitation programs through the Sir Edmund Herring Scholarship.
“It has proven to be a long-running and very practical contributor, not only to real-world research and driver education. Some of the findings have been groundbreaking.
“It is another important way,” Megan says, “in which RACV supports members and their communities.”
With her 2011 award, Dr Cathy Catroppa, a neuropsychologist with the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, was able to instigate a promising intervention and treatment to help children with head injuries.
Very young children are over-represented in road trauma statistics and, says Dr Catroppa, “with outcomes such as attention and memory problems showing up in everything they do in everyday life”, the program showed real potential to help.
“We couldn’t have got it off the ground without RACV and following the successful pilot funded by the scholarship we are now considering applying for more research funding to take it further.”
Epworth rehabilitation physiotherapist Dr Gavin Williams 2013 Herring Scholarship grant looks at developing strength-training programs to improve the physical performances of young people who have been injured.
Dr Williams says that previously there had been a focus on balance rather than muscular weakness as the cause of walking issues.
As a result of the scholarship, he says, tailored training regimes have proved to help individuals improve their mobility and effect better functioning through changes in the brain.
Injured in a crash “on a shockingly wet day in 2013”, Ben Watt, 22, broke no bones but suffered head injuries. He says that when he emerged from a 17-day coma, “I couldn’t move my right side”.
Ben says since undertaking regular gym sessions with Dr Williams, “and doing tough exercises ... I feel like I’m getting somewhere”.
He says his body movement is better and it can hopefully only improve.
“My main aim,” he says, “is to get back to driving.”
Edmund’s legacy continues to heal
Country Victorian-born Sir Edmund Herring (1892-1982), for whom the scholarship is named, was described as “a small, quiet man of great character”. He studied law at Melbourne University and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford.
He fought in France and Macedonia in World War I, was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 and was knighted in 1936. He was a brigadier on the North African front in WWII, where he won more medals.
In 1944 he became Chief Justice of Victoria and from 1945 to 1972 was Victoria’s Lieutenant Governor. He was patron of the RACV for 34 years.
Over 50 with impaired sight? Help the RACV Retiring from Driving Study by calling the Australian College of Optometry on 9349 7400.