“If people had seen what I have seen, they wouldn’t drink and drive”

Responsible-for-taking-away-someone's-loved-oneSpecial Constables Natalie Chimes and Andrea Armstrong are volunteer police officers with Bedfordshire’s Special Constabulary. They volunteer within the Beds, Cambs and Herts Road Policing Unit (RPU) and have some words of wisdom for you before you get behind the wheel this Christmas…

SC Natalie Chimes

I’ve not been to any fatal collisions; I’ve been lucky in that respect, but even so, I know that if the public saw what I have seen, like people being cut out of their car at the side of the road, they would never drink and drive.

As a Special I will always be crewed with a regular officer. When we first arrive at the scene of an accident it is chaos. I will usually help control the traffic, find any witnesses and take their details.

If there is only one officer at the scene of an incident there is only so much they can do. With two, things get done quicker so we can re-open the road and get the public on their way as quickly as possible, that’s why I joined the Specials; because I wanted to help the police, and the public.

Andrea and I have both worked hard to get into the RPU, and I don’t think people realise you can do this kind of thing as a volunteer police officer. There is so much to gain, including so much personal satisfaction at the end of a shift because you know you have helped someone.

The most recent drink driving incident I attended was at a supermarket. A man had driven there but when he went to leave, the staff took his keys away from him so he couldn’t drive home because he was so drunk. We later found that on the way to the supermarket he had gone up the side of a roundabout and burst a tyre. We did a breath test and he was over the limit so we arrested him.

A lady who was in the shop at the time told us that her daughter had been killed by a drink driver. It makes me angry that someone would do it and risk their life and other people’s too. It feels good to help get them off the road, but I do wonder how soon they will do it again.

I think people talk themselves into thinking they are okay to drive, because it’s easier to get into your car and drive than to organise a taxi. But when you think of the consequences, is it worth it? What if your actions cause someone to lose their life?

Both Andrea and I have helped support Family Liaison Officers as well; going to see families and deliver the terrible news that a loved one has passed away because of a road traffic accident. So we have seen the whole journey really – from the accident itself, to delivering the bad news.

It’s really awful if there are children in the house when you break the news. If I’m there, I will go and have a chat with the child and talk to them about their hobbies and what they like until other family members feel that they are able to break the news. I’m a mum myself, and it’s hard.

Sometimes I feel nervous about taking my daughter out in the car. I know I am driving safely, but what about everyone else on the road?

SC Andrea Armstrong

Unlike Natalie, I have been to a few fatalities which are always difficult. And breaking the news to families is heart breaking.

My first ever arrest was a drink driver actually. I was out on a routine patrol and saw a vehicle with no lights on, so I pulled it over. When we breathalysed the driver we found he was over the limit.

Drink driving is the thing that annoys me the most as there is just no need for it at all. That first arrest is what started me on my journey into the Road Policing Unit.

It’s not until you take a drink driver into custody that the reality of what they have done hits them because they know it’s wrong. A drink driving conviction can ruin your life. I know that if I can’t drive, I can’t work, and if I can’t work, I won’t be able to pay my bills and I’ll lose my home. So I don’t do it.

People think: ‘I know my limits’. But it’s really not that simple.

One memorable pursuit I was involved with was at 5mph through Luton. The driver was doing the same loop of two roundabouts, and was so drunk they didn’t realise that we were behind them, even though our lights and sirens were on.

Christmas is a peak time for us; the parties and events carry on throughout the whole of December. I want people to enjoy themselves, but please, if you are going to have a drink, get a taxi home. It really is not worth the risk to your life, and to other people’s lives.

I’ve dealt with a few people who have still been drunk the morning after. One driver was arrested early in the morning on the motorway, after bouncing off the central reservation three times. Just because you have stopped drinking in the early hours of the morning does not mean you are okay to drive a few hours later.

People wonder why we would do this as volunteers, but I know I am making a difference. Whether that is arresting a drink driver and getting them off the roads, or waving at kids and brightening up their day. The younger ones generally love the cars, so we always give them a wave.

We’re so privileged to work in the RPU alongside regular officers who are dedicated to keeping people safe, and also help us progress in our roles. We are only volunteering with them for a few days a month, but they see the same things day in, day out and we both have a huge amount of respect for what they do.

Each year more than 230 people in the UK are involved in fatal collisions after consuming alcohol. The Beds, Cambs and Herts Road Policing Unit will be out in force throughout December targeting those driving while under the influence of alcohol. For more information, click here.

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