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University of Gloucestershire A417 crash student backs country roads safety campaign

| 09.02.16

It could have been a script for the BBC hospital drama Casualty.

A young woman student driving home for Christmas loses control on a country road and smashes into a tree. Staggering, dazed, from the wreckage, she takes her life in her hands a second time, wandering off for help in a state of shock across a dual carriageway.

But University of Gloucestershire drama student Heather Armstrong’s near death experience on the southbound A417 at Daglingworth, between Cheltenham and Cirencester was real-life and not a work of fiction.

Thankful to survive, it is why she is telling her story to raise awareness of Gloucestershire Road Safety Partnership’s country roads campaign.

Heather, aged 18, from Maidenhead, said: “I was in a rush to get home. I wanted to see my family because I hadn’t been back for a couple of weeks. We were going to see Craig Revel-Horwood in pantomime.

“It had been raining but I don’t know why I crashed. I just remember turning the wheel, hitting the central reservation and smashing into a tree. My car spun round and ended up facing the wrong way and I was knocked unconscious.

“When I came round the whole of the passenger side was smashed in. I was in shock and knew I had crashed but I didn’t know how bad it was. I couldn’t find my phone so I knew I had to get out of the car and go for help.

“I managed to cross the dual carriageway and had been walking for a couple of minutes when I saw the lights of a car parked down a hill. I knocked on the window and the woman driver took me in, looked after me and gave me her phone to call the police and my parents.

University of Gloucestershire A417 crash student1“I was still quite shocked. I remember my hands were shaking because it was all quite scary. A policeman told my dad it was the worst crash they had come across that night and I was very lucky I wasn’t killed”.

Heather’s accident happened on a dark and dismal evening on the A417. She was routinely breathalysed – it was negative – and taken back to the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital where she was treated for whiplash and shock. Her car was written off and the experience has badly affected her confidence behind the wheel.

She said, “On roads that don’t go above 50 I’m fine and if I have a passenger I’m fine. But if I have to drive on the motorway by myself I get scared and a little bit nervous. I wasn’t like that before so my mum booked a driving lesson for me to do motorways, dual carriageways and stuff like that.

“Most people say it’s the young boy drivers that crash, but it can be anyone. You have to be aware of the risks. Anything can happen and you won’t remember why. It can be the simplest thing like changing a radio station. I know now how lucky I was”.

Gloucestershire Road Safety Partnership, which is made up of the county’s fire and rescue service (GFRS), Gloucestershire County Council, Police and Police and Crime Commissioner launched its ‘Country Roads’ campaign earlier in the month.

More than two thirds of the county’s roads are in the country. The aim of the campaign is to highlight the danger of losing concentration or driving with complacency on roads where seven out of ten fatal crashes happen.

Unlike Heather Armstrong, seven out of ten are the unlucky ones.

Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl said: “We live in a rural county so most of us drive on country roads at some time or another. The hard facts are that in one four year period 96 people were killed on country roads in Gloucestershire compared to 11 on motorways.

“Heather was one of the lucky ones. Her experience shows why this is such an important campaign for Gloucestershire”.

Cllr Will Windsor-Clive, cabinet member for fire, planning and infrastructure said: “Heather has been extremely brave in sharing her experience, allowing other people a glimpse of the ordeal she faced.

“I hope that everyone who reads this will make sure they are always concentrating when driving on country roads.”

You can find out more about the country roads campaign here: roads.

To see the story online please visit the Gloucester Citizen website here.

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