Category Archives: THINK! Don’t drink and drive

Breaking the message every emergency services worker dreads

PC Norton new.jpg

PC Norton from the Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Roads Policing Unit talks about a drink drive incident he will never forget.

“Any road policing unit available for a serious RTC? A vehicle has mounted the pavement hitting a family. CPR is being conducted on a small child at present.”

As I heard those words I turned cold as I momentarily thought of my own children before responding to the control room’s request. I set off on what was a sunny summer afternoon to a scene where lives had changed forever.

As I negotiated the road network I listened in to my radio. All I could hear were the heightened voices of my colleagues relaying what they were witnessing.

“Ambulance are working on the child, it’s not looking good. The driver of the car is out of the vehicle, it’s suspected he could be under the influence.”

I requested the control room called for the attendance of the collision investigation unit. All collisions involving serious injuries and loss of life are subject to a detailed investigation.

I’m within thirty seconds of the scene when a further update comes from local officers who have already arrived.

“The driver has blown over the limit, he’s been arrested for drink drive and were going to take him straight to custody.”

As I arrive I see a local response car. Seated in the back is the driver of the car involved in the collision, handcuffed with his head looking down towards the floor.

Ironically the driver was uninjured.

As I looked over to the paramedics, the injured girl was being placed into the ambulance which was about to depart for the nearest trauma hospital.

Other roads policing units had arrived and began the process of ensuring witnesses and the scene of the incident were preserved for examination.

I ran forward to the ambulance as a paramedic rushed into the driver’s seat, and asked which hospital they were going to. The paramedic responded requesting for a police escort as time was critical.

As we arrived at the hospital, the rear door of the ambulance opened and its ramp was lowered. It revealed paramedic’s working feverishly to treat their young patient.

I remember looking over to the young girl, dressed in bright summer clothes. As a parent myself, it is something I will never forget.

Her parents had travelled with the child and emerged from the ambulance; no words can describe the fear in their eyes.

Despite the sizable team of medics putting all of their effort and expertize into treating the child, it soon became clear the young girls injuries were not survivable.

The senior consultant and member of nursing staff spoke with the parents and broke the message every emergency services worker dreads.

In company with hospital staff I began the process of providing support to the child’s parents by taking them to a side room referred to as the relative’s room.

It was designed and equipped to be as comfortable as possible to support relatives and love ones in such circumstances.

Both parents were still deep in shock. The cruel reality of losing their child seemed simply impossible. I attempted to explain my role of support, offering to assist with any needs they had and answering their questions as best as I could.

Dealing with any death is difficult however the loss of a young life is especially challenging. In this case a child’s life, full of hopes and dreams, cherished and loved by her parents had been destroyed by the actions of another’s recklessness decision.

The driver of the vehicle was eventually charged with causing death by dangerous driving, pleading guilty at court and sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment.

I’m sure that if the driver had considered the risk he was posing, or known the devastation he would have caused, he would have never driven that day.

Yet the moment he decided to get into his vehicle and drive under the influence of alcohol meant he was willing to be a danger to others.

Drink driving ruins lives, don’t take the chance and put yourself, your friends, families and others at risk.

If you’re driving have none for the road.

 

“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.

‘But I’m not a drink driver’

Beware the morning afterAs Christmas approaches the constabulary will, as always, increase its focus on drink driving. A couple of Christmas’ ago I stopped a driver on a Sunday morning on the M11, a routine stop for speeding. As I spoke with the female driver I noticed a smell of drink from within the car. I breath tested her and found her to be over the drink drive limit.

The driver’s reaction surprised me; “but I’m not a drink driver”, as I showed her the result on my machine. It transpired that the lady had been out the night before, but not left sufficient time for her body to recover from the effects of alcohol in the morning. A few hours later at the custody desk I read the charge of drink driving to her, and her only question was “does this make me a criminal?”

The reason I chose to write about this encounter was really to bring the problem of drink driving into perspective. It’s easy to think of yourself broadly as ‘not a drink driver’ and ‘not a criminal’, but our responsibilities as motorists extend far beyond us acting like the stereotypical drink driver or criminal. The driver didn’t consider being over the limit as it did not fit with her idea of what or who a drink driver is.

The driver lost her licence and suffered a 12-month driving ban. She also had to pay a total of £580 to the court (£450 fine, £45 victim surcharge and £85 costs). She also had to pay a further £120 for recovery as her car was removed from the M11.  Lastly, she was made to attend a speed awareness course in regards to her speeding offence.
Inspector Paul Rogerson, Cambridgeshire Constabulary

The message here is to beware of the morning after a night on the drink – it takes a surprisingly long amount of time for alcohol to fully leave your system, so if you know you have to drive the next morning, take it steady and make sure you leave plenty of time between your last drink that night and your first drive the next day.

‘Drink driving has had a catastrophic impact on every part of my life’

Beer-and-keys

THINK! case study of a convicted drink driver: Jeremy Mann

Jeremy’s drink driving conviction in September 2012 resulted in him waking up in a police cell on his birthday, losing his job, home and financial losses of more than £35,000. Following an unhappy Christmas – being unable to buy presents and having to face telling family and friends – Jeremy has had to start re-building his life from scratch.

Last September, the night before my birthday, I met a friend in a local pub for a drink after work – and despite thinking early in the evening that I should leave my car and get a taxi, my judgment was impaired by several pints and I decided to drive home. I was stopped by the police about a mile or so out of town. The policeman tapped on the window and before I knew it I was in handcuffs and being put into the back of a police van. I felt very alone and experienced a feeling of desperate panic at my situation.

I was taken to the police station and given a breath test, feeling extremely embarrassed as the officers talked me through the paperwork. I spent a night in the cell and woke up in the early hours of the morning on my birthday feeling this was the worst moment of my life. After pleading guilty in court I was given a 16 month driving ban, with the option to take a drink driving education course.

Telling people afterwards was extremely difficult. I told my family at a family gathering just before Christmas, you can imagine how awful it was.

I consequently lost my job as a sales rep, company car, and my £35,000 salary. I also lost my home and had to move to lodgings– both due to lack of money and because I wasn’t able to do simple things, like take my shopping home, without a car. Financially, things have been extremely difficult. I wasn’t even able to afford to buy Christmas presents that year.

The loss of independence – both physical and financial, has been one of the biggest impacts on my life, particularly having to rely on others to get around. It has also seriously affected my chances of employment – when you’re considering two candidates for a job and one has a criminal record, which would you choose? My drink driving conviction has forced me to start re-building my life from scratch, and anyone who is considering it needs to be aware of the impact it can have on every aspect of your life.

Road Victims Trust – giving hope to help rebuild lives

RVT sign

The Road Victims Trust (RVT) operates across Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire and provides free emotional and practical support to all people affected by a road death.

Each year across the three counties, 90 people will lose their lives – that results in the RVT supporting up to 250 people who have been affected by that fatality.

The RVT has got a brilliant working relationship with the police officers across the three counties, so across Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire who have got a collaborated Road Policing Unit, and we have service level agreements with them, so every fatality across the three counties gets referred to us.

As a result of that, the officers will tell us who they feel need our support and within 24 hours we then get in touch with those people, either by telephone or letter, and offer a free face-to-face counselling service for as long as is needed, which can be several months, and years even.

The families will get a face-to-face counselling service; if you can imagine with a road death, by its very nature it is always very violent, it is always sudden and people have never had a chance to say goodbye, so people’s lives are absolutely devastated in the blink of an eye.

Mark Turner

Mark Turner

What we know by early intervention, by offering a counselling service face-to-face, we can start to get people on some type of road towards coping and recovery.

The support we have received from Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire by way of the police officers, the police staff and the police and crime commissioners has been absolutely fantastic. We couldn’t work without the police and we’d like to think we’re helping them by giving that support to them. It’s been brilliant for 20 years and I’m hoping that will continue.

You can read more about the Road Victims Trust here http://www.rvtrust.org.uk/.

Mark Turner, Chief Executive for the Road Victims Trust

‘Drink drivers never have an excuse for the damage they cause or the risks they run’ – the story of a paramedic

Ambulance

Prior to joining Cambridgeshire Constabulary I worked on the frontline for the ambulance service for six years and found much of the work was very similar.

More than 80 percent of incidents were ‘social-issue’ related and very much out of the public eye, however there were frequent dealings with road traffic collision (RTC) patients and, on occasion, patients who would be regarded as ‘high-end’ trauma patients.

Working in Surrey, the ambulance service was less stretched than in the East of England and we would generally be the first on scene. I lost count of the number of drink drive related RTCs I attended but one in particular has stuck in mind.

We had just unloaded a ‘high-end’ trauma RTC patient at a trauma centre, and as we left the hospital another RTC came in about a mile up the same stretch of motorway we had only just attended.

As we entered the slip road we could see a fireball in lane two of the pitch black motorway. We parked away from the vehicle, put on some protective clothing and updated the control room stating it would be a tri-service incident; one involving all three emergency services.

A witness came running up to us saying that a male passenger was still in the vehicle, however the flames had taken such a hold it was impossible to tell what make or model of vehicle it was, let alone if anyone was inside.

We soon established that it was a possible fatal and proceeded to assess the driver who was now in the witness’s car on the hard shoulder. She was very drunk and had broken an arm, a leg and one of her collar bones and had severe concussion.

The witness again shouted about the male passenger, I told her I was sorry and she then realised why there was nothing being done.

As the fire service arrived I noticed a dark shape about 400 yards up the unlit motorway, once it was safe to pass on the hard shoulder, I drove our ambulance further along and found a van with minimal rear-end damage but ripples all the way down both sides of the metalwork. The driver had been ejected through the windscreen but was thankfully fully alert, despite suffering extensive chest and abdominal injuries.

During this time fuel, or possibly oil, had leaked across the water running off the burning car and had ignited, preventing other colleagues who had now arrived from joining me at the van for several minutes. The ejected driver was eventually placed on a trauma stretcher and blue-lighted straight to St George’s Hospital in London.

Thankfully, unbeknown to anyone, the male passenger suspected to still be in the burning car had left the car and ran off as soon as it crashed, and the ejected van driver made a full recovery. The drunk driver who had caused the collision was arrested and later charged with drink driving. We were all amazed how collision had not been worse.

After the incident the driver had no recollection of what had happened or how lucky all involved had been. Drink drivers never have an excuse for the damage they cause or the risks they run, not only is there the obvious risk of harm from driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there is also the life imprisonment for causing death while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

I personally feel it should be compulsory for offenders to be made to watch footage of relatives being informed of the death of their loved ones, and of offenders serving life sentences as a result of them causing death by drink driving.

Reoffending is common place when offenders haven’t caused a death by their actions and this is never due to their own control this is purely down to luck. Making them watch such footage may be what is needed to prevent them putting themselves and, more importantly, other people at risk again.

PC Adam Catling, Cambridgeshire Constabulary