Cheshire Police have been asking drivers to take responsibility for the safety of their passengers as part of a summer campaign which comes to its finale this month. ‘Don′t treat your passengers like dummies′ has given Cheshire Police a chance to speak to a young offender of 21 from Thorn Cross Resettlement Prison in Warrington. From first contact with him, it was quickly gauged how difficult it still was to speak about the incident, which happened at the age of 18, and which resulted in him being convicted for death by dangerous driving.
Previously, Tom had worked in a job which involved driving vehicles and had passed his driving test with confidence, a few months prior to the road collision. It had happened during the winter months, when road conditions can be fatal, owing to the icy roads. Tom had had been driving all day in the car, and although he reported that he knew it was icy, as his windscreen had frozen over that morning, he didn′t think anything of the road conditions when he set off on a long distance journey with his friend, who wanted to visit a family member in hospital and Tom had offered to drive her.
On the way there, and whilst driving on a single carriageway - which carries a speed limit of 60mph - he states that he decided to overtake some vehicles in front of him. He overtook one car and pulled back into the lane, and then looked over to overtake once more, but he hadn′t seen a car coming the other way and over steered the car. The car skidded on the ice and veered off the road, with Tom not able to regain control of the wheel. His lack of judgement and inappropriate speeding caused him to crash resulting in a fatal outcome.
That day, both Tom and his friend were wearing seatbelts, and although this saved him, there were tragic consequences for his passenger. His friend was killed outright. Tom said "I knew she was dead, as soon as I saw her."
When asked if the fatal collision had changed him as a person, he said that "I think about what happened all the time and would urge others to use your common sense − don′t think that you can overtake, when you clearly can′t.
"I will obviously be more conscious of road conditions the next time I get in the car, but with a seven year driving ban, I will not be on the road for a while longer yet."
He had driven long distances before, thinking nothing of trips to the local town with his mates and very often he would be driving with other passengers in the car. "Ever since I had passed, I got used to driving with others in the car with me." Tom was always going to take Pass Plus lessons to increase his awareness of motorway driving after gaining his driver′s licence but never got around to it.
Now in Thorn Cross Prison for the last couple of years and serving the last year of his sentence, he has had time on his hands to think about his actions. He has undertaken a Restorative Justice/Victim Awareness Course to increase awareness of actions and the consequences for others. Because it is an open prison, prisoners have a degree of freedom which allows individuals following a risk assessment to spend some time doing voluntary work in the community.
Tom was asked if he wanted to be a speaker for workshops which Cheshire Police run in secondary schools across Cheshire − as a partnership with the other emergency services - called ‘Think Drive Survive′. They have been running for over fifteen years but when Tom first had to speak to secondary school pupils, he said "I was told that there were some talks that I could do, and signed myself up for the chance to do it, because I don′t want this happening to anyone else. The first time that I had to speak, my mind went blank and I didn′t know what to say, but a few talks in, and I can speak quite openly about the road collision and the consequences that it had on the victim′s family and my own.
"The most common questions that the pupils ask me are; will you ever drive again, what speed were you doing and how do the victim′s family react towards you."
Tom never gives the speed he was driving at throughout our interview, but admits that the collision does and always will play on his conscience. Speaking at workshops such as drive survive are one way to talk about what he did and serve as a deterrent to others to not make the same mistake, but he said "I feel like I am giving something back to others by doing the talks, and educating young people about the consequences but for the loss of a life, you can′t give anything back." The long term consequences of this fatal accident will be a constant reminder for him, and the victim′s family.
You can read more about ‘Think Drive Survive′ and ′Don′t treat your passengers like dummies′ by visiting upbeat.uk.com or cheshire.police.uk.