Real Life

Road safety instructor’s life-changing crash

Road safety instructor Chris knows she’s lucky to be alive.

As a long time paramedic, Lisa Charman has borne witness to more than her fair share of road accidents. And her partner, road safety instructor Chris Welch, is equally aware of the potential danger that comes with being behind the wheel.

Being as well-informed as they are, it had never crossed the pair’s minds that a near-fatal crash could be about to change their lives.

On September 24 at 6pm, Lisa got a police phone call. She was waiting for Chris – a respected motorcycle instructor – to come home. Lisa thought Chris (46) would have been out on a bike – she’d been taking an ACC-funded training course – and she also knew what a phone call out of the blue could mean.

“It’s one of those things with motorbikes… It was something I had always dreaded might happen. I just went cold.”

Chris hadn’t been on her bike, however. A car had collided at high speed with her work van. All Lisa knew from the phone call was that Chris had a broken leg and “a bit of a cut” on her face.

But when she saw her partner of five years at the hospital, she broke down in tears.

“She was worse than I expected – banged up and covered in blood. I’ve been to less serious crashes than hers where people have died. She’s lucky to be alive.”

The motorcycle instructor was driving a van when she was involved in the life-changing accident.

Chris, who has been involved with road safety for more than 20 years and has her own driving school in Tauranga, says – uncanny though it is – they had both had a premonition that something was amiss.

“It sounds really stupid, but for the last six months or so, Lisa and I both had this sick feeling that something might happen. We hadn’t mentioned it to each other because neither of us wanted to upset the other one.”

The van was written off in the crash, as was Chris’ motorbike and a student training bike, which were in the back.

She suffered a fractured vertebra, broken femur, ribs, nose and tibia. Her right foot, from her ankle to her toes, was shattered.

She has since had surgery to repair her femur, stabilise her lower leg, fuse her ankle and realign the metatarsals in her foot, and is facing more operations in the new year.

There is also the possibility she may lose her lower leg. It doesn’t faze this brave woman. Nothing, she says, will keep her from getting back on a bike.

“Motorbikes are my profession and they are my passion. If the nerve damage is such that I have to be on high doses of painkillers, then I can’t drive, I can’t teach, I can’t do anything. I’m not going to let my foot rule me and if that’s what happens, then it’s going to come off.”

Right now, she has other things on her mind, not the least of it the partner she adores and the two staff keeping the driving school ticking over.

“I don’t care at this stage if I lose my leg or not – my main priority is trying to keep Lisa and I afloat, making sure I don’t lose my business or our house.”

The couple, who share a love of animals as well as motorbikes, met seven years ago through Lisa’s work with St John.

They live on a lifestyle block near Katikati with a menagerie, which includes goats, horses – both big and miniature – a bull mastiff, a Saint Bernard cross, three cats, chickens, ducks, geese and a one-legged cockatoo.

“We know it’s seven years,” laughs Chris, “because I bought her a charm bracelet and every year I buy her a new charm.”

Adds Lisa (44), who was herself knocked off her bike by a drunk driver three years ago, “I found my soulmate.”

Ambulance workmates of Lisa’s, describing Chris as “a hard-working woman”, have set up a Givealittle page to help the couple.

Astonishingly, neither woman holds any animosity towards the others involved in the crash. Instead, they hope that the experience will lead to better driver awareness and more responsible driving.

To donate to Chris’ recovery fund, visit

Words: Julie Jacobsen

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