Traffic Sergeant Pete Stringer has dealt with some of the most serious crashes in North Yorkshire, and investigated exactly how they happened. Here he reveals the easiest change you can make to the way you drive to prevent one.
Insight: Sergeant Pete Stringer
It still gives me goose pimples when I think about the first time I had to deliver a death message to a family after a fatal crash.
It was more than 20 years ago. But it’s something I’ll never forget.
It was a few days before Christmas and the family I went to see had been Christmas shopping. They’d probably been buying presents for the victim as the collision happened.
As they saw me approach their home, they knew exactly why I was there before I’d said a word. And from that moment on, their lives would never be the same again.
Dealing with fatal collisions is the worst part of a traffic officer’s job. Seeing someone who’s died of traumatic injuries is harrowing. It’s possibly the only place you see injuries like that outside a battlefield.
But seeing the look on the face of their husband, wife, mother, father, son or daughter when they open the door expecting to see a loved one, and instead see the police officer who‘s come to deliver a death notice – well, that awful moment stays with you forever.
On patrol: Our Roads Policing Group deals with North Yorkshire’s most serious collisions
Many traffic officers don’t talk about what they have to deal with, let alone tell strangers. But I’m telling you this for one simple reason – YOU can help prevent it happening.
Most collisions are due to driver error. In fact, around nine out of ten are. That’s not to say it’s always the driver who suffers the most severe consequences.
Often, it is the innocent passengers, pedestrians or other motorists who pay the ultimate price for someone else’s split-second misjudgement.
But nevertheless, the best way to reduce your chances of having a crash is to stick to the rules of the road.
And one of the simplest changes to make is ensuring you don’t creep over the speed limit. It’s easy to avoid – the numbers are right there on the speedometer in front of you.
I’m constantly stunned by the amount of times I hear people say ‘but I was only a few miles an hour over the limit’…
I’m also stunned by the amount of life changing or fatal collisions I’ve attended where the driver was ‘only a few miles an hour over the limit’.
When you travel at 35mph rather than 30mph, you need an extra one metre to think before you can even react, and an extra five metres to brake. That’s an extra six metres in total.
It’s the difference between someone stepping out in your path and carrying on with their day after you narrowly miss them, versus someone stepping out and being flung over your car like a ragdoll and taking their final breath as they lie on the carriageway.
We deal with such incidents. They are real. They happen here in North Yorkshire. Nobody thinks it will happen to them. But it does.
Remember, speed limits aren’t a target, they’re a limit. They are there to give you more time to think and respond.
Limits: Inappropriate speed is one of the most common factors in serious collisions
If you break that limit, even by a few miles an hour, you deprive yourself of that response time. And you could deprive someone else of far, far more.
Inappropriate speed is one of the main contributing factors in the majority of fatal crashes North Yorkshire Police deals with. We know that for definite because we thoroughly investigate every fatal collision.
But making sure you don’t creep over the limit, even by a few miles per hour, could be all you have to do to avoid causing one, and changing your life or someone else’s forever.
It really is that simple. I can say that with absolute certainty after more than 20 years of dealing with the most unimaginably catastrophic, heart-breaking yet preventable fatal crashes.
Trust me, if you saw what I saw, you’d never speed, even by a few miles an hour.