The simple action that could have saved Charlie Robertson’s life

Sally Millar holding a photo of son Charlie Robertson

Clare Barry

Posted November 20, 2020

Charlie Robertson’s tragic death is a reminder of the importance of wearing a seatbelt. Now his mum is trying to save others from the same fate.

(Editor's note: some readers may find this article distressing.)

Charlie Robertson was a young man with high-flying dreams. The 21-year-old carpet-layer had been taking flying lessons in his spare time, his eyes on a helicopter licence. Next stop up north, and one day a job as a musterer on an outback station.

“He was always bush-orientated – fishing, hunting, he loved downhill mountain-bike riding,” says his mum Sally Millar. “He was popular, good at anything he put his hand to. He was also rebellious, but very sensitive … and he liked to party.”

The night he died Charlie was celebrating his mate’s birthday at a Yarra Ranges pub not far from his home in Woori Yallock. It was a Friday night in April 2015 and six friends jammed into a Nissan Patrol built for five to keep the night rolling at a house party 13 kilometres away. Until the driver, his BAC twice the legal limit, lost control of the car.

When it flipped and rolled, Charlie was thrown from the front passenger seat. “Where he landed on the road is where the car ended up on top of him,” explains Sally. “He ended up with catastrophic injuries and died at the scene.”

Two other passengers suffered life-changing injuries, and the driver was later jailed for dangerous driving causing death and serious injury. “Being sober – that’s part of the responsibility you take on when you say ‘okay mate, I’ll drive you’,” says Sally. Charlie’s mate told her that they always wore seatbelts, “but we think that particular night they were partying hard and they just didn’t”. 

“I was so angry at him. I was one of those mothers that didn’t drive the car unless the belts were done up. When I went to pick up his ashes I clicked him into the front seat on the way home and I actually said ‘see, it’s that easy, why didn’t you just do this?’ ”

Charlie was far from alone in leaving his seatbelt undone. An average of 23 car occupants killed on Victorian roads each year in the last five years were not belted up. Ninety per cent of them were male and 69 per cent crashed on regional roads. As Victoria marks 50 years since seatbelts were made compulsory, these numbers can be hard to fathom.

“With seatbelts it’s so simple,” says RACV senior safety policy adviser Elvira Lazar. “You just put your seatbelt on and it reduces your risk of dying by up to half. The technology is already in the car, it’s such a simple thing to do.” 

Losing Charlie left a gaping hole in his family’s hearts and lives. “I live my daily life and I’m grateful for so many things but I’m only ever just millimetres away from the pain of the loss,” says Sally.

She now volunteers for Road Trauma Support Services Victoria, speaking to sports clubs and traffic offenders about what happened to Charlie. “Anything to get the message out to people, road trauma loss is just so senseless.


Road Trauma Support Services Victoria offers free information and counselling to anyone impacted by a road collision. Contact them on 1300 367 797 or