Life and Death in a Rear View Mirror

by Kathy McMahon, Team Zero Advocate

July 1995, DublinI came back to consciousness still inside the car, with harsh fumes permeating the air around me. It took a few moments for me to get my bearings.

Then I remembered what I had been doing moments before this – driving towards Tallaght on the Belgard Road with my two wonderful sons in the car.

My last memory was seeing in the rear view mirror a car from behind come towards me at speed. As the moments seemed to become minutes. I tried to accelerate out of the way but the car continued on. There was a bang. Then darkness.

Now sitting in the car, my surroundings came into focus. We were on the other side of the dual carriageway -where we had a head-on impact. I noticed something strange about my body and thought, “I have never sat so straight in my life”. Not realizing that I was pinned to the car seat and that my legs would have to be rebuilt with titanium.

I turned to my son Justin sitting in the passenger seat. He was silent, his eyes closed. I spoke his name, “Justin”. There was no reply. I called to my younger son in the back seat, also without reply. Looking out the driver’s window, a man on his hunkers was speaking to me. I told him “I need to get out, I need to help my sons”. He said not to move, that the emergency services were there and going to get us out.

I called Justin in the passenger seat again and pleaded with him to respond. There was silence. He had something in his mouth, holding his airways open. I heard someone speaking to my youngest son in the back seat, telling him he was covering him with a jacket to prevent injury from flying glass as they cut us out of the wreckage. There was no response from him. I began to scream, to plead with God to give me all the pain and just leave my sons alone.

Finally, I heard my youngest son groan and I spoke to him, told him there were people there to help and not to be afraid. I turned my attention to my son in the front passenger seat, pleading with him to speak, to open his eyes. My other son, conscious now, calling his brother’s name. Begging him to reply. Then a sudden energy surge felt like something leaving, and we screamed for him to stay, but he was gone.

I must have lost consciousness again because next I found myself in an ambulance and recall the ambulance men telling me I was going to James Connolly Memorial hospital and my sons were gone to St James’. Darkness closed in again.

Unique Potential

“I hope you are saving for university, you have a scholar on your hands” The words came from my son’s sixth class teacher, Mr. Durcan, in St Mark’s primary school. His statement did not surprise me as I had raised my boy, so I knew.

Those remarks during a January, 1990 Parents/Teacher meeting were repeated in 1995 at a parent/teacher meeting. “If he was my son I would be shouting his name from the rooftops. Do you know how special and unique your son is?”

That last year Justin agreed to do work experience at a local vet’s clinic. He had grown to love animals through keeping gerbils. He became very interested in veterinary work from spending lots of time in the vet’s surgery. A career in veterinary was definitely on his radar. Or more.


It was a week later before I was again conscious. I was in the intensive care unit in James Connolly Memorial Hospital. I knew my son was no longer with us, I had known from the moment in the car when I felt his energy leave.

I came around just about the time that his human remains were escorted through the cemetery gates, surrounded by all his friends and the people who love him. He had a police escort on his final journey as a mark of respect.

We all must accommodate loss – and I have done so. But it is the waste of Justin’s potential and the effect on others that for me is irreplaceable.

If there had been a system which could have warned me that day, I might well have had time to get off the road. In any event, I see the immense benefits of helping prevent other similar incidents. I’m a strong advocate for rta0 and I urge you to be also.

The Knock on the Door

by Fintan Dunne, rta0 Founder

If the police had knocked just a little longer or harder on our front door at 7a.m., then my mother, my two younger brothers and I might have got to see John Dunne, father of our small family -before he died.

But we four lay in our beds asleep while he lay just miles away on his back on a frosty January road. John had an early morning contract to distribute Irish Independent newspapers to outlets across South Dublin. Occupationally not seat-belted, his van had skidded across the Bray Road in Dublin to collide head-on with an oncoming truck.

Deceased at 51, he left a widowed spouse, a youngest son at 12, another at 16 and I, the eldest, at 21.  The trauma was life defining.

On our way to Loughlinstown hospital that morning after a vague 7:50a.m. phone call, we drove past the mangled remains of the Independent van . My mother quietly said “My, God.” She knew then.  Later she knew for sure.

We had been a close-knit, artistic family of five. Now we were four.

The Echo

It’s twenty years later. I’m running a software development firm. All around me are banks of computers, servers and communications paraphernalia. Already, by 10am, it’s hotter than hell, because the equipment is pumping out heat.

The phone rings.

“I’m looking for Fintan Dunne.” A laconic, slow drawl of a voice.

“Yes, …. speaking.”

“Sergeant O’Rourke here, Fintan, in Enniskerry.” A long, silent pause.

Days ago, Joe- my youngest brother had phoned to say that our middle sibling, Declan had come home with pants wet up to the knee and was days previously in the early a.m. found in the hills above the Dundrum family home.

“You know why I’m calling you…., don’t you?,” said the sergeant.

Ah…no…. Ah, Jesus, no.

“Yeah……..,” I whisper. The fans whine, trying to shift hot air.

He breaks the silence. “Can you meet me at the station?”

When I get to Enniskerry and meet the Sergeant, he is a breath of fresh air. Down to earth. Which is just what I need. He is so matter of fact, you would swear we were going for a burger and not to the mountain roads above Enniskerry village to collect the car in which Declan had taken his own life.

It has a flat battery, because with the lights being on, they drained the battery after the petrol ran out. These are the mundane aspects of a suicide. We view the gorse-fringed clearing where Declan had taken his own life.

His suicide was multi-factorial, but in truth the trauma of those events a score of years earlier had left their mark. The accident had reached out to echo across time and claim it’s second fatality.

That’s the way of it. Ask others bereaved by the trauma of road accidents or suicide. I’ve known both. For countless families, the knock on the door is answered to devastating news. The suddenness of loss detonates shock waves lasting decades. People live on, never the same. Direct your empathy to my late mother -who lost more than I can comprehend.

We had been a close-knit family of four. Now we were three.

Ending the Carnage

“Are you sure you will be able to drive it?” inquires the Sergeant. The car reeks incredibly of carbon monoxide fumes. He and I have it running.

“Yeah….” I answer casually with a wave of my hand. I sit in and belt up. There is a part of me tough as a Vietnam vet; a war landscape most of my life.

From Enniskerry, I drove down to identify my brother Declan’s remains in the same Loughlinstown mortuary which had held my father twenty years earlier. One event, two entwined consequences.

I’ve touched the carnage and it’s touched me. I have skin in this game. During a late 1990’s surge in suicides, I established Men’s Aid to do anti-suicide radio advertising and outreach. Suicide and road deaths are twin mass killers. Issues constantly close to my heart.

Sentiment however, won’t prevent tomorrow’s road tragedies. Determination and human ingenuity will. So here’s good news for those who want to see an end to destroyed lives and fractured families.

I became an Apple ‘tech’ pioneer in 1981. Reinvention via human factors technology is the blood in my veins.

Over the last two years, I’ve overcome all technical obstacles to invent a smartphone app called Alice, which prevents road accidents.

Smartphones are today in widespread use. So while we await a new generation of intelligent cars, drivers can team up with Alice on their smartphone and avail of a road-savvy artificial intelligence, always alert for danger.  You can learn more about Alice on our website homepage.

It’s taken time until smartphones got sufficiently widespread, reliable and globally cheap to make the Alice system possible.  That time is now.

My mother Mary instilled in all of us a powerful meme: “Anything worth doing,” she would say, “is worth doing well.” Well, it isn’t only tragedy which knocks. Opportunity knocks also. We have a historic opportunity.  Let’s do it well.

I’ve outlined a deployment timeline below: