Sam Bailey has seen first-hand how a road fatality changes lives.
He recently watched his best-mate comfort his children after losing their mother in a head-on crash. He saw the flow-on effect to the rural community in which they lived.
And it brought back memories of his own when he was the was the victim of a motor vehicle accident 30 years ago.
That's why the Croppa Creek farmer is stepping up his efforts to educate people about how a split second decision can change the course of a person’s entire life.
Taking on an ambassador role with the NSW government’s Saving Lives on Country Roads campaign, Sam said he will be using his story as a wake-up call to other drivers.
“We've got this terrible road toll, which just seems to be getting worse and worse, and I suppose I just felt terribly compelled to try to do something,” Sam said.
“I've been a victim, and I also saw one of my best mates last year, his wife was killed in a head-on.
“So I've seen a broken man, I've seen three kids left without a mother, I've seen a shattered family, I've seen a community that's just been rocked by the accident and I just felt compelled to try and help.”
While he knows he can’t save everyone, Sam said just saving one person or one family from having to go through what he and his mates went through, would make the campaign a success.
“Hopefully we can make a difference,” he said.
He also supported the campaign because he believes real stories like his own are more likely to have an impact.
“I think people might look at me and think, well gee, I could be Sam, perhaps I’d better put on a seatbelt and slow down a bit,” he said.
He’s also hoping he can encourage people to think about the consequences of their actions.
“The other thing you don't think about when you climb into a car is the burden you place on the people that have to clean up the mess. I certainly didn't think about it when I climbed into the car,” he said.
“I often think about the emergency services crews, the ones that are at the coal face of some of these accidents and they must be just horrific.”
Sam is humble about his small contribution to the Saving Lives on Country Road campaign.
“It's been a great honour to have been chosen as an ambassador when there's plenty of people like me around who could have done the role as well,” he said.
But he knows first-hand how life can change.
At just 19-years-of-age he climbed into a vehicle, forgot to put on his seatbelt and ended up with what he calls a “life sentence”.
“I was born and raised on a family farm near Croppa Creek and from day one the bush was in my blood, the dirt was under my fingernails and all I wanted to be was a farmer,” Sam said.
“I had it all planned from a very early age. Complete my schooling, a year or two out in the big wide world to learn a trick or two, and then it was to be back home to take the reins from Dad.
“The plan was going along very nicely until my second year out of school, I was jackarooing on a cattle station in the Northern Territory.
“A few mates and I decided we'd head into a little place called Camooweal for a beer. So we assembled mid-afternoon, climbed in a car full of fun and excitement about the afternoon ahead, closed the doors and set sail.
“But we never made it. Unfortunately, we got 15 minutes down the road, we were flying and we had a blowout in the front passenger side tyre and the car rolled several times.
“I was a passenger in the back seat, didn't have a seatbelt on and was thrown out the back window and came too lying on the side of the road.
“I remember my first words to a couple who'd obviously pulled up and were kneeling down beside to me, I said to them, gee I hope I don’t spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair, so I guess you could say that I was preparing myself pretty early on for what was about to become reality.”
Sam broke his neck and severed his spinal cord, leaving him a C6/C7 quadriplegic with no feeling from the chest down and limited use of his hands and arms.
After spending five months in the spinal unit in a Brisbane hospital, Sam returned home to the realisation that nothing would be the same again.
He could no longer drive a car, ride a motorbike or help out around the farm.
“I will never forget wheeling into my old bedroom for the first time and there in front of me was the life that I had," he said.
“My saddle hanging up, surfboard and water ski in one corner, cricket bat in the other corner. I'll never forget putting my footy boots on my lap, and that's when it really hits you that there'll be no more rugby.”
Over the following few years Sam turned his life around. He learnt to ride a four wheel bike, developed a hoist to get into farm machinery and learnt to fly an ultralight.
Today, when Sam and his wife Jenny aren’t at home on their 1200 hectare property, ‘Pine Hills’ at Croppa Creek, tending to their 150 Angus cows, they’re travelling across the country talking to school kids and audiences about Sam’s life.
He talks about the flow-on effects of your decisions, and rising up to overcome challenges.
“We've been speaking to schools right across Australia now for the last 12 or 13 years, and we just try to inject that resilience and that toughness back into the kids,” Sam said.
“Jen and I unfortunately couldn't have our own kids, but we think there was a reason for that. We've got a whole country of kids out there to inspire and show them nothing is impossible and hopefully they can live their dreams as well.
“Sometimes we can all forget about what we have, rather than what we haven't got.
“We're all terribly, terribly lucky to live in this great country that does offer us all so much, whether you're an able-bodied person or someone with some limitations.
“If you're prepared to stand up and have a crack, the opportunities are endless.”