I joined the (then) IAM following an Advanced Driver Course in 1996 which was followed by an Advanced Rider Course in 1997. I used the driving and riding skills occupationally throughout my career and was confident that I was a safe and skilled driver and rider.
In 2014, I was driving to work and was involved in a head on collision with another car that was travelling in the wrong direction on the carriageway. I had multiple physical injuries, a brain injury and subsequently developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.
As a “thinking driver”, I reflected many times on whether I could have done anything differently to have avoided or lessened the impact of the collision. I asked myself questions such as;
I am not sure that I came to a reliable and consistent conclusion. I do know unequivocally that in the instant between seeing the approaching car and the collision, I did not have enough time to move my foot off the accelerator or to turn the steering wheel in any way.
In terms of my mental ill-health, it has had a dramatic effect upon my driving and riding. I would typically slow unnecessarily for right-hand bends, deviate to the left when vehicles were approaching in the opposite carriageway and have disabling physical symptoms when passing the site of the collision and when my family were in the car.
There were times that when I was going through my P.O.W.D.E.R.Y or P.O.W.D.E.R.S. checks, because it was clear that I could not drive or ride safely. I was absent from work for three months and it was six months before I was back full-time again.
Upon reflection, I was just about managing my physical injuries but was not managing my psychological injuries. This was problematic both for my family life and career. I was working in a high-pressure job, driving occupationally and becoming more unwell. I retired from my career in 2017 because of my injuries.
Looking back to those times, I made some poor decisions that appeared perfectly rational at the time. I recognise times when there were near miss situations and I wondered why other drivers and riders were so poor; I was the unsafe driver!
I made a conscious decision to become more actively involved with IAM RoadSmart and other road safety organisations. My intention was to deconstruct my driving and riding, understand areas of strength and areas for development and to aim to reconstruct them to at least the level they were before.
I became a car and motorcycle local observer, took as much learning as I could and exposed myself to some very uncomfortable situations. I rebuilt my confidence and competence and have helped other drivers and riders to do the same which has felt truly amazing. I became a national observer (car) this year and achieved a Masters with distinction; motorcycle will come next year.
I continue to live with physical and mental ill-health, but it does not define me. I am comfortable with the new ‘normal’. It has changed my outlook on life and made each day into an opportunity.
The driver or rider is the most important component in the process known as driving and riding. If that element is not functioning optimally, the rest of the system becomes inherently flawed. This reduces safety and increases risk.
Safety is not negotiable.
The phrase ‘you never know what’s around the corner’ would appear to be true.
By an IAM RoadSmart member and guest blogger