Local student Patsie Gorman was in a recent car crash at the Barnaby Road/Park Road junction in Portsmouth. Reflecting on her experience, she makes the case for slowing down and saving lives in an open letter to the other driver.
Between June and September of this year, I spent a fortune – not to mention time and hard work – learning to drive. I was determined to pass before my first term at university started. I took my first test and despite being almost faultless in my driving, I failed. The instructor felt I was overly cautious because I decided not to overtake a cyclist on a busy road. I felt the cyclist, other passers-by and my own life were more important than rushing to overtake. In my defence, the Highway Code states you should only overtake if it is totally necessary, but my examiner interpreted my decision as lacking the confidence to perform the manoeuvre.
I was gutted to discover I hadn’t passed – but I booked another test for 13 days’ later and in the meantime practised at every opportunity. When the day of the test came, I aced it – I passed beautifully with 3 minors: for being 2mph over the speed limit, for stopping at an amber traffic light and for a bumpy move off. Nonetheless, I was chuffed.
My family helped me to buy a car – a Peugeot – and I felt like a grown up. I drove my Dad over to the ferry terminal on the night I passed my test and he, along with the rest of the family, were so proud of me. My Mum’s parting words to me the day I passed my test were: “I love you to pieces and I’m so incredibly proud of you. But please remember better late than dead”.
Three weeks later and everything was perfect: my parking, consistent speeds, timing – I felt like a fully-fledged driver. I allowed myself well over an hour and a half to drive from Southampton to Portsmouth for my 3pm lecture at the University, with my boyfriend as passenger. We enjoyed the motorway journey – singing away to Ben Howard.
We arrived in Portsmouth around 2.20pm, pulled onto Park Road and drove towards the traffic lights. I put on my indicator to turn right. I put my handbrake on at the lights and waited. The lights turned green. It was a yellow box zone, and I patiently gave way to oncoming traffic, as you should. When it was safe, I pulled out into the yellow box and I began my right turn into Burnaby road.
That’s when you hit me. You must have seen me but you sped up, thinking you could beat me to the turn. You miscalled it and hit me instead.
I was travelling at 10mph. The impact crumpled the car – the bumper was flat out. We span so hard that my boyfriend and I smashed our heads on the side panels and were forced forwards into the airbags. The car did a full 180 degree U-turn and ended up back where we had driven from, on the wrong side of the road.
When we stopped moving, my ears were ringing. My chin felt like I’d hit a brick wall. The engine had been forced so far back it had crumpled. The steering wheel jammed so hard into my knees they almost instantly changed colour: literally, black and blue. The doors would barely open. We had to ram the now useless and gnarled metal so hard it cut my knuckles.
We’re lucky that was the only blood spilled. I’ve been told since that if you’d hit me head on, the chances of me and my boyfriend walking away from that accident would have been incredibly slim.
I’m not proud of the abuse I shouted at you when I finally managed to escape from my car. I’m not proud that I screamed until my chest seized up and my first panic attack set in. But I can’t apologise for it.
Because you came out of nowhere. You increased the speed of your car at the last minute to try to speed up your journey, but you made a bad call and forced me off the road. For the sake of what – a few seconds, a minute off your journey time? – you endangered not just your life, but mine, my partner’s and the dozens of pedestrians walking past.
You were incredibly lucky no one was hurt.
Embarrassment crept over me as the police pulled up and routinely breathalysed me, before they turned to you. I was the newer, younger driver, after all. They say that ‘with age comes wisdom’, but they never mention that arrogance and ignorance can often come with it. I bet you prayed my reading wouldn’t be a clear zero, but I knew it would.
‘My car was brand new, too!’ you told me, as if this made the accident less your fault. But we both know what happened. If you hadn’t been travelling at well over 30mph in a 20mph student zone, neither of us would have known the other even existed.
The accident has definitely affected the way I drive. I’m more cautious. I’ve vowed never to break the rules of the road. I’d rather suffer abuse from other drivers for playing it safe than know anyone was harmed as a result of my driving.
A lot of things have been taken from me since the accident: the assumption of safety, the belief accidents happen to others not to me, my dream car. But I’m still grateful: grateful that my boyfriend and I walked away with our lives, our futures, that we all did. In the end, I learned a lot from the accident.