IT'S A SIGHT you would never want to see. Serious crashes leave loved ones dead or critically injured.
Officers from Sydney's Metropolitan Crash Investigation Unit are faced with attending these horrific scenes all too often and have seen firsthand the devastating impacts a fatal crash can have on family, friends, the community and even themselves.
The unit's Commander Inspector Steve Blair, who began his police career in 1978, said several tragedies stood out to him. One involved a young man.
"There was one time on New Year's Eve when a young guy was crossing the train tracks at Lidcombe. He was hit by a train and was speared into a power pole.
"He died as we were helping him. I remember his friend saying: 'Is he going to be OK?
"You see it all the time with young people, their whole life has been wiped out in a second."
This is why he is so passionate about increasing traffic road safety through public education.
"Police can't do it by themselves," Inspector Blair said. "It's about community engagement. We work very closely with the Centre for Road Safety and other transport-safety government agencies to achieve this, and together, we are saving lives.
"But we would like to save more; even one fatality is too many."
So far this year, there have been 268 deaths on our roads and 253 major crashes. At the same time last year, there were 288 deaths on our roads and 263 major crashes.
Inspector Blair said Highway Patrol Police (HWP) are currently engaged with Operation Free Flow, which involves having dedicated HWP police patrol the Metropolitan Motorway System around Sydney and the Central Coast in a bid to crack down on distracted drivers.
"Having a greater police presence eases congestion on the roads, encourages good behaviour and reduces crashes," he said.
Inspector Blair, who has been with the Traffic and Highway Patrol Command for three years, said his unit was a specialist team within the Traffic Control Command that dealt with crashes leading to serious injury or death.
He said one of the roles crash investigators had to carry out was forensic examination to determine how the collision occurred.
"While you have to be sympathetic to the family, it's your responsibility to investigate the collision thoroughly, to bring evidence to court," he said.
"That's the experience that police have. We have to have a grieving process too. It's very heart wrenching, difficult and stressful at the same time, and we always walk away feeling sad.
"However, it's the responsibility of the police crash investigator to put emotional feelings aside and do his or her job to the best of their ability."
He said it was the responsibility of general-duties officers to inform families about the death of a loved one, and this was a role that no-one could get used to.
"That would have to be the most difficult job in policing." Inspector Blair said. "When you knock on someone's door at 2.30am, you can see in the mum and dad's eyes . . . they just know."