Car crash at Level CrossingAnother day, another story on the news about young people being killed in a car accident.  In this one a driver tried to race through a level crossing warning so he wouldn’t have to stop.  The 17-year old driver didn’t make it through and his two 17-year old passengers died in the resulting collision with the train.  From the picture I find it hard to believe even the driver got out of that wreck alive.

Why does this keep happening?  Why does noone learn from other people’s previous mistakes?

The obvious answer is that we never think things will happen to us.  Having passed your driving test, it can give you a false confidence that you are ready and fully equipped to drive anywhere and do anything you like in a car.  This is obviously not the case, as up until that point you will have only had a limited time on the road so obviously you still have a lot to learn - you have basically only just earned the right to be on the road by yourself with no supervision, passing your test doesn’t mean you are an excellent driver already.

When I was learning to drive, I only had a few lessons before my instructor decided I was good enough to be able to pass a test.  This may have been so, but I still managed to fail it!  After this, he said it still wasn’t worth going back for lessons every week as it would mean basically wasting money in his words as he didn’t have anything else to teach me.

Obviously driving tests weren’t my thing as I also managed to fail my second one as well - although I still insist that second one wasn’t my fault.  Having been warned beforehand that this particular examiner didn’t like people hesitating and had failed people for this in the past, I was determined not to dilly-dally at junctions and the like.  Having done the whole test route, I came to a roundabout on my way back to the test centre when a guy came round indicating that he was turning up the road I had just come down.  Anxious not to be marked down for hesitating unnecessarily I pulled out to be on my way - only for the guy to change his mind and keep coming round towards me.  I’ll never forget the sound of the examiner sucking air through his teeth as he thought the guy was going to hit us!  Not the best way to end what would have otherwise been a successful test, but the examiner did concede that I was unlucky for that to happen to me.

It was third time lucky though - but the luck didn’t last as two weeks later I pretty much wrote off my Dad’s car!

When I got my driving licence, I had had eight driving lessons and had been through three tests so basically I had only had eleven hours of proper supervised driving tuition when I was let loose on the open road to basically do whatever I wanted.  I had also had some time out and about driving with my Dad, but I wouldn’t count that as actual tuition as it was basically just practice to clock up more miles ahead of each test.

I’m sure people privately thought the accident would have been all my fault, the typical young guy who has just got through his test going too fast kind of accident, but it honestly wasn’t.  I wasn’t driving along looking at the speedometer but I know I definitely wasn’t over the speed limit and as far as I recall, I wasn’t even going too fast for the road I was on.

Obviously I was doing something wrong though otherwise I wouldn’t have crashed!  A combination of an earlier hail shower and a sharp corner meant that I effectively went straight on off the road, down a banking and into some trees.  I wasn’t hurt, although my neck did ache for a few days due to the rather sudden stop!  The car was a bit of a mess though, and I felt bad as it wasn’t mine - plus I was actually meant to be cleaning it up that day so my Dad could sell it!

Whether people believe it or not, this was a genuine accident - I didn’t know there had been hail as the road didn’t look slippery and I hadn’t felt it at previous corners.  We later found out that another car had gone off at the same corner just a few minutes before me, but it hadn’t gone right down the banking so he had managed to just get back on the road and carry on.  This goes to prove that accidents can happen to anyone, no matter their age, but there are some which are more avoidable than others.

Admittedly, had I been travelling along that road at 20mph or 30mph then I probably wouldn’t have slid as far and would have avoided actually hitting anything, but we have to be realistic and not everyone is going to drive everywhere at that kind of speed.

There are only so many rules and regulations that can be introduced to govern an activity before it gets so out of hand that noone knows what they can and cannot do.  The rules of the highway cover most things and although new laws are brought in from time to time regarding use of mobile phones and the like, most people know roughly what is acceptable - it’s mainly common sense after all.  But people knowing the laws and abiding by them are two different matters though.

Personally I think we need to do something to change people’s attitude towards cars and driving, especially young people’s.  Some think it only natural that young boys will want to go out and race their cars up and down the roads, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.  There is simply no place for that in our society when there are many other avenues open to them if they fancy racing their mates - proper race tracks even allow you to take your road car along and hurtle round the track as fast as you want, so why do they have to do it on the open road?

We had a court case in Scotland recently where a group of young boys were racing near where I live.  The road they were racing along is fairly wide and open, but driving up it in a dangerous manner is obviously asking for trouble - in this case their actions sparked a seven car pile-up and resulted in the deaths of three people.  As is often the case, some of the dead were totally innocent parties who just happened to be coming the other way at the wrong time.

The three drivers found guilty were given what some would deem fairly harsh sentences - the worst was given over ten years in jail -  but the judge made it clear that these were intended to act as a deterent to other young drivers.  Anything that makes them think twice before an accident rather than after it can only be a good thing.

I must impose a sentence which will send out a clear message that such behaviour will be treated severely by the courts.

When you get behind the wheel of a car you have responsibility to other road users.   Cars are not toys, they are potentially lethal weapons.

The use of public roadways as a race track is an irresponsible and extremely dangerous escapade, as demonstrated by the present tragic crash and it is apparent from the increasing number of serious driving cases which come before the court that dangerous driving, particularly by young and inexperienced drivers is a major problem on our roads.

This case demonstrates the inevitable consequences of this behaviour.

There were three young pointless wholly unavoidable deaths.

The grief you have caused to the families and friends is immeasurable.    Judge Rita Rae QC

These are not the first youngsters who have gone out and done something silly in the heat of the moment and not for one minute would I suggest they deliberately went out with the thought of crashing in their minds.  Most likely they had raced before with no ill effects and so thought nothing of doing it again.

Experience probably wouldn’t have saved them in this instance, unless it made them wise enough not to race in the first place, but their previous driving history is telling.  One driver had only passed his test the day before the accident, another had passed his five weeks previously and the other had only just regained his licence four days beforehand after having lost it for drink driving.

Obviously something needs to be done to educate not only new drivers, but to also discourage people who lose their licence from running the risk of losing it again by reoffending.

Just how you do that is a different matter and I can’t really think of a surefire way.  They have been making the test a little bit more involved and therefore harder to pass in recent years which will hopefully mean people are building up more time on the roads before they actually get through their test.

Perhaps another idea would be to copy the procedure for learning to fly - as far as I’m aware with it you have to clock up a set number of hours in the air before you can apply to sit a test.  while this wouldn’t necessarily alter their attitude, it would give them a little bit more experience on the road which may help should they come upon problems in the first few weeks following their test.

Showing them the consequences of speeding and drink driving may be another step forward.  The problem there is that the only way to do it successfully to ensure they remember it is if the police are allowed to be very graphic which may make it harder - if your wife was killed in a car crash would you give the police authority to make a little film about it showing her as she ended up?  A few weeks after the fact you may decide that it would do some good, but at the time I would imagine you wouldn’t be thinking too straight and wouldn’t want her remembered like that.

I’m sure something like that would certainly play on the minds of some new drivers, but there will be others who will not be swayed from doing whatever they want no matter what.

we will never be able to come up with a solution that will prevent all accidents, nor will we be able to ensure that all drivers do so responsibly.

At the end of the day we all have to take responsibility for our own actions and if they do result in an accident like those above then we have to live with not only the consequences for ourselves, but also the consequences for the families of the people we hurt.