A cautionary tale about drink driving

George Cairney’s life was completely changed in 2008 when he sat in the back of a car with a driver who had been drinking. The vehicle crashed into a brick wall at 135km/h. Mr Cairney, 24, told his sobering story to students from Christchurch Boys’ High School and the wider community on Wednesday. Here’s what he told the students.

Thank you very much for having me here this evening, I think I have a lot of important information that can either help, if not save, your lives.

And you may ask me what I mean?

I may seem like a normal guy, just a regular Joe Blogg, but I’m sure by the end of my speech, by the end of my story, you’ll think very differently.

At the time of my accident, I was back at King’s College. I was in seventh form in Auckland. I was loving school, absolutely loving it.

I was in the school’s basketball team. School sports was a passion for me and I was loving school. I got As in English, which was fantastic. All of these things, all of these passions I loved, all of these things can be changed by one decision, one bad decision.

I would like to tell you about that now.

I was at a party, it was about a month before my final exams. October 1, 2008. I was with a bunch of friends, I was at an 18th party, and it was just a regular night.

But I was drunk, this was my first mistake because getting drunk hinders your ability to make good decisions. It makes it really hard to say ‘hey, I don’t want to do that’.

I asked my friend for a ride home because I was drunk and I couldn’t drive.

He said he was sober, he said he hadn’t had anything to drink – how was I supposed to know that? Unless you plan it before or you keep an eye on it the whole night.

He told me he was sober, this was not true. He’d had more than twice the legal limit to drive.

We hopped in the car. This was my next mistake, one of
many – I didn’t put on my seat belt.

It’s so simple, it takes three seconds and it saves lives. I may have been in the back left side of the car but people still die.

Then he started driving very fast. Extremely fast and very badly. I should’ve said: ‘Stop. Please pull over, I’m not comfortable, will you please let me out.’ It’s simple.

That was the moment that changed my life forever.

He was rounding a corner too fast on Remuera Rd in a 50km/h zone, going twice the speed limit-plus.

He hit a power pole exactly where I was seated.

We went through a garage door and halfway through a brick wall.

I was in a coma for a month.

When I woke up, I didn’t know I was there, I didn’t know what had happened because I don’t remember this night. I don’t remember a year and a half before this night or a year and a half after this night.

Three years of my life is gone and I feel like I’m telling stories about another person.

But these were my mistakes. It has affected my life hugely.

I have diabetes, epilepsy, splenectomy – it took my spleen.

These are the scars from one, two, three, four, five bad mistakes in one evening.

I even had to have part of my skull replaced with titanium plating.

My left leg was partially replaced with a titanium rod and behind this metal front is the part of my brain that was most damaged.

Sure, I damaged the left and right lobe but the frontal lobe is what makes it hard to behave correctly, behave socially correctly and manage my own life.

I can’t plan. I work with six carers part time, 24/7.

Every single day of my life is planned by someone else. That was not my plan when I was back at high school, this was not my plan when I was 17 years of age.

But I made those mistakes.

Partial loss of sight, partial loss of hearing, partial loss of smell.

My left eye I can only see when I look in one direction. My right eye, I can’t see my hand when it’s right there.

My left ear is deaf, which is a big bummer. I only have eight per cent taste left, which is a real bummer – I was a big food person.

Not so much anymore.

All of these things, all of these injuries, all of this crap in my life could’ve been prevented by just thinking before I did those things.

Before I finish this speech, I just have a few questions for you.

How would you think, how would you feel if you were in my position?

How would you feel having all of this happen to you and you were in the middle of it?

What would you do to stop it again? And how would you live?

Because every day I get up, I feel like I have less motivation. Every day I get up, it’s hard.

There are three things you have to remember.

Don’t drink and drive. Come on, it’s not that hard, is it?

Second thing, (when you) hop into a car, put your seat belt on. It’s three seconds of your life.

Put your seat belt on, even if you’re in the back seat. They save lives. Millions of lives.

And next, if your friend is driving dangerously, if he’s driving fast, if he’s driving drunk – tell him to pull over, tell him to stop the car.

You shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask because they should be the ones embarrassed for putting your life in danger.

Thank you.