Does getting points on your licence change driving attitudes?

Oxford Mail: What the car looked like after plunging down an embankment, hitting a tree and overturning What the car looked like after plunging down an embankment, hitting a tree and overturning

A 21-year-old student was driving along the A34 from Oxford in the morning rush hour traffic to work as an intern at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Harwell on July 16, 2009. He had been doing the journey for almost one year. This day would be different.

He reached the Marcham Interchange at about 8.45am travelling at the speed of the traffic in the outside lane. A driver came up the slip road from Abingdon and instead of going to the inside, slower lane, went straight into the fast lane without indicating and cut him off. He had three choices: either crash into the offending car, crash into the central reservation or brake sharply. He decided to brake.

The car went into a tailspin and turned around twice on the A34 at the height of the rush hour traffic. Unbelievably this did not result in a fatal crash. No one else was injured.

This stretch of the A34 has metal barriers along the inside lane most of the way. Of course the steel fence dividing the two sections of the dual carriageway marks the outside lane. It is like a mini walled canyon where any spinning car will be bounced back into the path of oncoming traffic like a pinball in a giant game.

There is a brief area, maybe 500 yards, where no inside barriers exist and a whirling car can fly off the dual carriageway. Luckily this accident happened in the space of those 500 yards, and the driver and car disappeared from the line of traffic in the blink of an eye.

His car plunged down the embankment, hit the upper part of a tree and snapped the trunk in half. After diving about 10 feet from the tree to the ground, the car rolled over three times and came to rest on its roof with the engine still running and a tank-full of petrol leaking.

It was all over in seconds. A life could end that quickly.

The car responsible for this catastrophe drove on and disappeared into the southbound swirl of the A34. A curtain came down on this tragedy. These things happen every day on our roads.

But two other things happened. One driver who witnessed the accident stopped and rang 999 to get the ambulance and the police. They both arrived in record time. Another driver saw the accident and drove on to get the registration number of the car that had caused it and reported this to the police.

The 21-year-old student was wearing a seat belt and was still conscious when the car finally stopped. Dangling upside down, he was in a state of shock with his foot still pressing the brake pedal on the floor, except it was no longer the floor but the roof. He was in a new world and knew the engine could catch fire at any moment.

After several attempts the student managed to release himself from the seat belt against the force of gravity and dropped to the roof which was now filled with shards of broken glass.

It was impossible to open the door so after kicking sharp pieces of glass away from a smashed window to clear an escape hole, he crawled out.

The ambulance took him to the JR for a head scan, treatment and observation.

Thames Valley police traced the woman who caused the accident and interviewed her. She claimed she saw and knew nothing about the tragedy.

Bicester Magistrates’ Court heard the case on November 10 that year. Simona Di Pretoro was convicted of driving without due care and attention and was fined £220 and had to pay a victim surcharge of £15 and costs of £65.

Her licence was endorsed with six points. The victim was not invited to address the court or to make a statement about the impact all this had on his life. In fact he wasn’t even informed that the trial was taking place.

That 21-year-old student is my son, Magnus. The fact he is still alive after the accident is a minor miracle.

The case is now closed. We have all had to pick up the pieces. But when I put those pieces together even a few years down the line, the balance still doesn’t add up: a total fine of £300 and six points on a licence against a 21-year-old who barely escaped with his life. How do you solve this equation?

The question remains whether fines and points on a driving licence change peoples’ attitude and behaviour. Do we have the right policy in place to deal with harmful behaviour on the roads? Consider the alternatives.

There is always a prison sentence, but can it really work or is it more harmful than helpful? What about education? Is that the soft, empty option or can it really change the way we view the world? What would you choose?

Comments (1)

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3:51pm Fri 13 Dec 13

Lord Palmerstone says...

I think the fact that the woman would not acknowledge her guilt and responsibility answers the question. Some are like that. Let us simply call them "bad people" though there are clearly more apt titles. Happily most humans are just that, humans, like the driver who allowed the bad person to be brought to a semblance of justice, the driver who got the emergency services on scene and the services themselves.
So Miss de Pretoro will continue to occupy her unpleasant little space, but not many will share it with her.
I think the fact that the woman would not acknowledge her guilt and responsibility answers the question. Some are like that. Let us simply call them "bad people" though there are clearly more apt titles. Happily most humans are just that, humans, like the driver who allowed the bad person to be brought to a semblance of justice, the driver who got the emergency services on scene and the services themselves. So Miss de Pretoro will continue to occupy her unpleasant little space, but not many will share it with her. Lord Palmerstone

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