Campaign to keep young drivers safe on the road

Rory Paterson. Picture: Jane Barlow
Rory Paterson. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE moment of impact is something Rory Paterson will never forget. Nor the noise of the smash as his car was crushed and tossed aside like waste paper.

He was 17, he’d passed his driving test a week earlier and he was at the wheel of a small car full of friends, the music as loud as they could bear it as they made their way to the Davidson’s Mains chip shop.

There was a bus in front blocking his view, but he turned right regardless. And that’s when his life, and those of his friends, could have been ruined forever.

A momentary lapse in concentration, an unthinking decision just to turn, a lack of driving experience particularly with passengers? Now 23 and studying law at Edinburgh University, Rory still doesn’t know why he turned without looking to see if anything was coming towards him. And so the van smashed into the left side of his Citroen Saxo, which crumpled as it was sent careering further down the road.

“I was lucky that it was only the car that was a write-off,” he says. “It never leaves my mind that it could have been so much worse . . . that I could have killed my friends, even myself. It was a shocking, terrifying moment.”

Rory’s accident is just one of Lothian and Borders police statistics which show that between 2008 and 2012, 554 people aged between 17 and 24 were involved in car crashes – seven of them fatal, 62 serious, 485, including his, classified as “slight”.

The statistics for young drivers are poor. While they make up eight per cent of all drivers in the UK, they account for almost a quarter of all accidents. Which is why the Good Egg Driver Campaign has launched a new guide for 17 to 24-year-olds with the backing of ordinary drivers like Rory, and Falkirk-based racing driver Christie Doran, 18.

The booklet will be distributed to young motorists across the UK, via advanced driving instructors, schools, colleges, road safety professionals, while The Parents Guide for New Drivers, offering vital information for supporting new motorists in the family, will also be available.

The launch couldn’t be more timely, with the Scottish Parliament yesterday debating the Graduated Driving Licence scheme which aims to build young, new drivers’ confidence on the road gradually, and which it’s claimed could save 22 lives and £80 million per year if introduced by Westminster.

Certainly it feels as if stories of young drivers involved in car crashes are a staple of the news diet. In February this year, 19-year-old Nicholas Ness was banned from driving for two years after overtaking a car near Haddington and smashing into a tree, leaving one of his passengers with broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung.

In January, three people involved in a crash on the A1 near Torness all died – driver Dawn Morris was 21, her friend and passenger Claire Jamieson was also 21, while the other driver, David Forsyth was 23.

Sarah Laftavi, a young doctor, died after a collision between her car and a number 31 Lothian bus on Lasswade Road last April. She was 24.

“It was my nightmare for a long time afterwards . . . that I could have killed them,” says former Stewart Melville’s pupil Rory, reflecting on his accident. “In fact, I was so lucky that only one of my friends fainted, but there was also the worry that injuries might come out over time, but thankfully that didn’t happen.

“I had been very keen to pass my driving test. I turned 17 in the February and I got lessons straight away and passed my theory test. I sat the full test in the May and within a week I’d written off my car.

“I was at a friend’s house in Cramond and we thought we’d go for chips. There were four of my friends in the car so it was pretty packed and we were listening to music and I just mustn’t have been paying full attention to my driving. I needed to do a right-hand turn and there was a bus in front of me blocking my view, but I still turned . . .

“There was a van coming straight at us, and it smashed into the side of the car. It almost crushed the car in half. I really can’t believe everyone was OK. No-one had a scratch on them, which was a miracle when you saw the state of the car. My parents were furious, but thankful we were all OK.”

It was four months before Rory felt able to get behind the wheel again. And when he did he didn’t give a lift to friends for a long time after that.

“I didn’t really want to drive again. I was fearful of what might happen, and still thinking of what could have been. Maybe there should be a rule that new drivers don’t have passengers until they’re more experienced,” he says. “Even now I’m not happy about taking passengers. Certainly the Good Egg Driver Guide is a step in the right direction and it suggests doing that.”

Probation plates are another idea put forward by the guide, which is backed by young driver insurance authority Ingenie, and campaign groups Brake, RoadSafe and Road Safety GB and Arnold Clark.

“I didn’t even think about ‘P’ plates. You never really see them, but with hindsight it probably would have been a good idea, although wouldn’t have stopped the accident. But it would have made other drivers aware that I was new on the road and could make mistakes.”

Honor Byford, chair of Road Safety GB, agrees, saying: “It is a worry when someone’s son or daughter takes to the road for the first time, and we do our best to give them as much advice as possible.

“The new guides do just that in a very informal and encouraging way which is exactly the kind of communication needed to help form better attitudes, better awareness, and a reduction in casualties amongst this vulnerable road user group.”

And Sarah-Jane Martin, spokeswoman for Brake, the road safety charity, adds: “Young drivers are the most at risk on Britain’s roads, and the New Drivers Guide prepares young people well for the road ahead.”

As for Rory, he’s says that while he’s now a confident driver he will “always be cautious as I have that feeling at the back of my mind that something bad can happen”.

“Last weekend I was on the A1 heading for North Berwick and a friend was in the car ahead and went shooting off, and there was no way I was going to copy him – I know how much you can lose.”

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Campaign is not about cracking heads

THE new Good Egg Driver Campaign encourages new, young drivers to create a “pact” with their parents to make sure they stay safe on the road.

A spokesman says: “It’s a win-win strategy keeping parents happy while giving new drivers the freedom they want. By completing a pact, parents can agree that a young person can use the car while they agree to stick to some pre-agreed conditions.”

The guide suggests that conditions could include:

• Not driving after 11pm;

• Not driving at weekend nights;

• Never using a mobile phone while driving;

• Not to drive with more than one passenger;

• Making sure everyone in the car wears seatbelts;

• Displaying P (probationer) plates on the car.