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Like most teenagers who have just passed their driving test, Lauren Eade is keen to get behind the wheel as often as possible. So she sets off one crisp winter afternoon - and I am beside her.
There is no traffic, so she zooms happily along at the speed limit of 60km/h. It’s quite a pace for a country road. Within minutes, she fails to spot an approaching junction and a car pulling out ... until it is too late. Lauren swerves, and our car plunges into a tree.
“Wow,” says the pretty 17-year-old, looking wide-eyed at me.
Thankfully, we are not seriously injured trapped in a car, but sitting safely in a classroom. Lauren is working her way through an online module called Anatomy Of A Crash, which is part of a groundbreaking software unit called Drive iQ.
Traditional driving lessons concentrate on the technical skills needed to pass the test but have failed to evolve to prevent statistics that show 19 out of 20 road accidents are caused by poor attitude and behaviour, not vehicle-handling skills.
A recent insurance survey oncluded that almost half of young drivers admitted to feeling nervous, under-prepared or scared when driving independently. Drive iQ was developed to fill the gaping void in the current learning process.
The free online platform educates a young person on the impact that their attitude and behaviour have, and provides coping strategies designed to make users better drivers.
I am currently involved in a campaign to make the software mandatory for all new drivers - because the virtual accident Lauren just caused was very similar to the one that robbed me of the ability to walk.
It was 2003 and I was 18. I had just finished school and was at a friend’s party. A group of us piled into a Renault Clio and sped off down the road.
Like Lauren, I was inexperienced and overly confident. The passengers around me were drunk. That is my last memory of the night. I lost control and flipped the car into a field. As the car rolled repeatedly, my skull was fractured, my eye dislodged, my jaw and cheekbones shattered, my collarbone snapped and, last but not least, my spine broken. No one else was hurt but I was left paralysed from the chest down. I can drive again now, but only using a specially adapted car.
In our Drive iQ test, Lauren had failed to recognise the dangers we were in, despite having passed her driving licence test. If the situation had been real, Lauren would have helped bolster the shocking statistic that one in five young people crashes in the first six months of driving. Driving is the biggest single killer of young people in the UK, before murder, suicide or drugs.
Neurologists credit young people’s carefree attitude to the underdevelopment of an area of the brain called the frontal lobe. This doesn’t fully mature until our early 20s, and it is only then that we are able to properly anticipate danger and assess risk. Drive iQ claims it works by accelerating frontal-lobe maturation.
If I had had the opportunity to watch the simulation of a crash like mine play out on a computer screen, my life would have turned out very differently. Thankfully, for you, or your children, itÕs not yet too late.