Road to recovery: Getting back behind the wheel

Blog post posted on 26/04/23 |

By Izaak Southwood

Zak Representing IAM At The BYD CompetitionOn 9th January 2020 I was driving to work, it was no different from any journey until I was hit head on by a driver who had fallen asleep. In that split second my entire driving career would change forever. I was 22 at the time and took pride in my driving but had never considered just how at the mercy of other drivers we are. At the time I was serving as a special constable and was attending road traffic collisions on a regular basis but never thought for a second I would be involved in one myself.

Initially the accident had quite a detrimental effect on both my physical and mental health. I was injured, the ligaments and cartilage in my left knee were damaged and I suffered a compressed vertebra. I was off work and pretty immobile for 3 months. The car I was driving was a BMW 1 series and it was my pride and joy. It was well and truly written off. Recovery was slow and access to rehabilitative treatment was hampered by the pandemic arriving but I was determined to get back behind the wheel. Despite being a confident, trained driver before the accident, I found that for the first time in my life, driving was no longer something I enjoyed.

A police colleague and close friend suggested that I should take a look at IAM RoadSmart’s courses. He had been a member for over a decade and felt it would be the perfect way for me to fall in love with driving again. Following his recommendation, I signed up to become an IAM RoadSmart Associate and joined Herefordshire Advanced Motorists. I was introduced to my local Observer who got me back on track and helped me to achieve a perfect F1RST pass in my Advanced Driving test. I was of course well versed in advanced driving in a professional capacity but it was very refreshing to be able to work on it in my own time, with people who were committed to road safety.

My local group was asking for volunteers to become local Observers and I jumped on the opportunity. If I was able to help someone regain their confidence or become safer behind the wheel, as my Observer had, it would be well worth my time. I began my Observer training with my local Chief Observer who coached me through the LOPS framework. It was a real eye opener because just because you can drive, it doesn't necessarily mean you can teach people to drive. It was a learning curve but it soon became a passion of mine. I passed the assessment and qualified as a local Observer.

I now have an Associate who, like me, had lost their confidence after a road traffic collision. Seeing the improvement in those who I coach is the biggest source of motivation and satisfaction I could ever ask for. Knowing that I am making a difference to the overall safety of everyone on the road makes volunteering for IAM RoadSmart all worthwhile. This was especially true recently when I was coaching at a Driver Refresher Day hosted by Herefordshire Advanced Motorists. I was allocated to a husband and wife who had recently fled Ukraine after Russian forces had occupied their village. They had booked into the refresher day because they had never really driven in the UK before and were very nervous about getting out and about on UK roads. After an hour or so of driving with them I was able to see a huge improvement both in their confidence and enjoyment of driving. It was a pleasure to enable them to regain their independence after their lives had been turned upside down by the war.

Another reason I volunteer for IAM RoadSmart is for the opportunities that are presented. Early last year I was asked if I would like to take part in the Best Young Driver competition. I was 24 at the time and was just below the upper age limit. I entered the competition and went through a selection process which included the initial application where I had to write a ‘driving CV’ and a test on the highway code. I was very fortunate to be one of the 16 finalists to be invited to the Williams F1 HQ where we were to be pitted against each other on their e-Sports simulators.

After a hard day's racing I was very lucky to come out victorious and qualified for the International Best Young Driver Competition in Madrid where I would represent the UK and IAM RoadSmart. To prepare for the competition I was invited to an IAM RoadSmart Skills Day at Thruxton, where I was put through my paces on track. It was my first time driving on an official racetrack and having watched touring cars race at Thruxton it was really the opportunity of a lifetime.

A month or so later it was time to head to Madrid to compete on the international stage. I was joined by Alice Kettlewell who had also qualified to represent IAM RoadSmart and the UK. We arrived in Madrid with IAM RoadSmart and were whisked off to the Circuito de Jarama where over the weekend we were put through our paces against drivers from all over Europe. The challenges included track driving, off roading, agility and skid pan work. All of which were completed using a fleet of brand-new BMW’s. To say I was in my element would be an understatement!

After a hard-fought competition, I was very lucky to finish in the top 10 coming in at 9th, closely followed by Alice in 14th. It truly was the trip of a lifetime and solidified my commitment to IAM RoadSmart, road safety and supporting other drivers to develop their driving skills.

I would thoroughly recommend joining and volunteering your time. We all share the roads and I feel that we should all be doing our bit to make them safer, we all want to get where we are going! IAM RoadSmart helped me fall in love with driving again and for that I am ever thankful. 

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