Review: Safe Drive Stay Alive
Yesterday, I trotted into an auditorium with around 900 sixth-formers from around Hampshire.
Full disclosure: I am not 17. But I did still feel that highschool self-consciousness as I walked - alone - to the back and sat - alone - to watch the Safe Drive Stay Alive show.
Before the show
900 people all between 16 and 18? Noisy. Very.
The organisers had tweets up on the big screen and there was much hilarity as people started posting selfies with the #SafeDriveStayAlive hashtag. Not a whole lot to do with road safety but everyone found it very amusing.
As the compere introduced the event and called out the name of the schools in attendance, each group tried to out-do the last with really ear-splitting screams. And my, can sixth-formers SCREAM.
So, a cheery atmosphere. But when the guy mentioned that there would be counsellors on hand to talk to anyone who needed to leave, I started feeling a bit unsettled. Most of the people around me probably didn't really know what they were in for, but this is my job. I was pretty sure I knew how this was going to go.
The first thing to come up on that big sreen was the beginning of a film. A group of teenagers going to a mate's house after a couple of drinks at a bar.
One of the girls offers lifts but her friend says she can't drive after the amount she's had to drink - and takes her keys. She'll drive, she says. And I mean, that's great - but in my head I was like "Ummm, is she insured to drive this car?" Hey, I work in insurance.
As the inevitable outcome built up, any talking and laughing in the theatre stopped. The tension was unbearable because you knew what was coming. The passengers in the back were being noisy, the girl in the front passenger seat was mucking about with the driver's phone... You just knew. The driver wasn't using her phone but when her friend dropped it, she instinctively scrabbled for it in the foot well.
The worst part was that - really - she'd done the right thing. She wasn't drunk. She hadn't taken drugs. She wasn't texting. And yet, as it turns out, she gets arrested for causing death by dangerous driving. Because it was her responsibility to make sure she could focus on the road.
17-year-old me would have found that outrageously unfair. And you know what - I still kind of do. But it's the law, and her naivety or reluctance to speak up led to a crash that killed her friend. That's what the court found and that's what matters in practical terms.
The personal stories
At breaks in the film, we heard from police, ambulance crew, a doctor, a young guy in prison and - horribly - a mum.
And they didn't pull any punches. Over the course of the show, the audience was threatened with injury, suicide, prison, shame and homelessness.
A traffic officer told a story about a 22-year-old who was driving with his girlfriend of 5 years in the front seat - they'd been to the seaside for the day. He turned a corner on a country road and crashed into a tractor trailer.
Amanda died and John was trapped under her decapitated body for 2 hours as the emergency services worked to get him out. He got 18 months in prison for causing death by dangerous driving. He'd been going 5mph above the speed limit and couldn't stop in time.
"I pull you over for speeding and you ask if I haven't got anything better to do and why aren't I catching murderers? I am."
Carl, traffic cop
The mum told us about losing her 21-year-old son. He was going out for the evening, so he checked his hair, kissed her goodbye and headed off down the path.
She went out 20 minutes later and as she was driving, she got a call to say her son had been in a crash - on the road she was driving on. She went straight to where he'd crashed but the road had been cordoned off already and she couldn't get to her son as he was dying, just metres away from her.
Within an hour, news of his death was all over social media. Once she'd identified his body, she immediately had to start ringing around the family; she didn't want them finding out that way. So there she was, making the same horrifying call over and over, before she'd even had time to understand it herself.
This poor woman has told her son's story over and over to try to help people understand the long-term impact a crash has. Hearing a mother say the words "internal injuries to his organs" about her SON was so upsetting, and this is when we lost most of the 13 people who left the auditorium during the show.
"It's been 4 and a half years. Does it get any easier? No, it doesn't. Time helps you learn to live with it but the agony and pain just gets deeper. Shock initially helps you get through the funeral; it took 18 months to realise he wasn't coming home."
At one point we were told that the front 3 rows of the auditorium represented the number of young people who died in crashes in Hampshire last year. That seemed like a LOT when you looked at it like that.
I thought it all very harsh - but it was all true, too. A 17-year-old isn't a child, and if you're old enough to be in charge of a leathal weapon, you're old enough to hear what it can do.
"It was really intense. Um. Yeah."
I didn't go to Safe Drive Stay Alive when I was at college and I don't think the other local colleges did either. My late teens and early twenties were scattered with news of local kids losing their lives in terrible crashes. Rural area, bored young people.
I can't say what effect it would have had on me then, and as I didn't learn to drive until I was 26, it wouldn't have made much of a difference to my attitude to driving. I was a good passenger, and my mum always told me to refuse to get in a car if someone was drunk; luckily I was never tested on that.
Would Safe Drive Stay Alive have saved even one of the people I knew who died? Can't say. The importance I see here is that people deserve the truth of what they're about to get themselves into.
ingenie's never really gone in for shock stuff as an education tool - but this is necessary information. If you want to drive, you should be prepared to accept how life-shatteringly dangerous it can be. How quickly worlds can be torn apart and how long the after-effects continue to ruin families.
And in that way, Safe Drive Stay Alive is very effective. I left the auditorium thinking that 900 young people would be hugging their mums a little tighter that night.