Nathan Johnston said he was once a teenager who loved to take “stupid risks” on the street. But one day one of these risks, a burnout, almost cost him his life.
The 25-year-old Adelaide man is living with a permanent brain injury resulting from a reckless driving accident in 2019 when he crashed into a post.
“I did a burnout in front of my friend’s house, and then I went to the car wash and washed it (the car),” Johnston said, recalling the moments before the accident.
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One of his car’s tires was almost gone and when he got back behind the wheel, he lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a post.
Johnston was in a coma for two months and barely remembers his hospitalization until he began rehabilitation.
“I had to learn to walk again. I had to learn to speak again. I had to relearn everything,” he said.
“That challenged me mentally.”
The brain injury means Johnston’s limited mobility and fatigue means he has to plan all of his daily activities ahead.
Now he campaigns for road safety, talks to young people and encourages them to learn from his mistakes.
“Don’t be like me. Don’t be naive. Do not be stupid. Eventually it will catch up with everyone,” he said.
“When I was younger, I felt like a man when I behaved inappropriately. Really, I wasn’t a man. I was a boy”
“The right handling of the road makes you a man. Using the road inappropriately still makes you a boy.”
A mistake that could have been avoided
Johnston’s warning comes as the latest police figures highlight the fact that young drivers aged between 16 and 24 have been responsible for more than 19 per cent of all serious injury accidents in South Australia so far this year.
And that’s despite the fact that these youngsters make up just 11 percent of the population, the Royal Automotive Association (RAA) said in a statement.
Coincidentally, Johnston said he received a similar road safety message as a teenager when accident survivor Eli Murn visited his school as part of the Metropolitan Fire Service’s Road Awareness Program.
Murn was speeding through the Adelaide Hills in 2004 as a 24-year-old when he crashed into two pine trees.
He spent nearly two years in rehabilitation for a permanent brain injury that continues to impair him both physically and mentally.
Despite hearing of the dire consequences of Murn’s reckless driving, Johnston said his behavior on the road as a teenager did not change.
About five years later, he called Murn regularly to accompany him on a difficult road to recovery after his own reckless accident.
Johnston now wishes he hadn’t, in his own words, been “cocky” and heeded Murn’s warning.
Charles Mountain, the RAA’s senior manager of safety and infrastructure, said distracted driving is a major factor in accidents involving young people.
“Those few seconds of distracting your attention can mean the difference between an accident and being safe on the road,” he said.
Murn also urged the youth to speak up if they felt unsafe in a friend or family member’s car.
“If you don’t think it’s cool, say so. If you’re not happy in the car, say so. Change the culture,” he said.
“You don’t win prizes by taking big risks. I learned it the hard way.”