'Young drivers need more help'

'Young drivers need more help'

Pic © Patrick Boyd Photography

When Carol Morgan and her husband John received a phone call at 3am saying their daughter Sophie had been in a car crash, one of the first things Carol asked after being told she was alive was whether she could walk. When the answer was yes, Carol and John felt relieved the accident wasn’t more serious. But a second call not long after turned their world upside down, when it was revealed her injuries were far worse than first thought.

“It came from a doctor who said that Sophie had sustained serious injuries,” says Carol. “She had a spine injury which had left her paralysed from the chest down. I collapsed and kept saying this couldn’t be happening. From that point on I was plunged into a nightmare.”

Just two days earlier – in August 2003 – life couldn’t have been better for Carol and Sophie as they said goodbye at Gatwick airport. Sophie, then 18, was flying to Scotland, where she’d been at school, to meet friends and collect the A Level results that she hoped would secure her a place at Manchester University to read Law.

Carol, from West Sussex, recalls: “It was an exciting time for Sophie. She’d just completed her exams and was looking forward to starting university. I remember saying, ‘You’re off on the next chapter of your life. The next time I see you it will be the start of a new beginning.’ Neither of us could have imagined that the next time I saw Sophie she would be in hospital.”

At that time Sophie had been driving for about six months. On the night of the accident while driving friends home from a party, she’d taken a bend too fast and lost control of the car. It went off the road and ended up in a field, leaving Sophie as a paraplegic.

“When I saw Sophie in hospital her first words were, ‘I’m so sorry’,” says Carol. “She’d been driving a car belonging to the parents of her boyfriend, which felt different to her own car. She was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. I remember her asking whether she would walk again and when a doctor said no she thanked him for being honest. Sophie knew that she faced the future in a wheelchair, but showed such strength and maturity.”

‘The  consequences of one car journey changed my daughter’s life completely’

In the months that followed – when Sophie should have been at university – she was instead adapting her life. This meant having to re-learn the most basic of functions, such as how to wash and dress, but she remained determined to make the most of what she had.

Following an art foundation course in Brighton, Sophie moved to London, continued with her studies and now works as an artist, designer, model and TV presenter. “I’m really proud of Sophie,” says Carol. “She hasn’t let what happened hold her back. However, it hasn’t been easy. The consequences of one car journey changed her life completely and remain with her every day.”

Carol is telling Sophie’s story because she wants parents of other young drivers to be aware of what can happen when they get behind the wheel. She also hopes the statistics – that one in five young drivers crash in their first year, thousands of under 24-year-olds are killed or injured on UK roads every year and 95 per cent of these crashes are contributed to by attitude and behaviour, not vehicle handling skills – will have an impact.

She supports Drive IQ, a free online education platform for novice and young drivers, that consists of state-of-the-art software, designed to provide a virtual experience of driving in all conditions. It covers 30 core topics including distraction, safety margins and attitude and alertness. Sophie is an ambassador for the initiative, and helps young people get access to the software programme, while Carol helps spread the word to parents, and often joins Sophie to give talks in schools. “Drive IQ puts young drivers through potentially hazardous road scenarios in a virtual environment,” says Carol.

“The programme helps mature the frontal lobe part of the brain – responsible for danger analysis – that isn’t fully developed until the early to mid-20s. It also improves other skills that are often neglected by young drivers by making them think like older ones.”

Carol and Sophie want to see Drive IQ on the national curriculum, and hope parents will push to make this happen. “Youngsters are taught about drugs and bullying, so safe driving should be covered too,” says Carol. “I want to prevent other mothers from going through my experience because no-one wants to see their child in a wheelchair.

“It’s easy to look at a situation and assume it will never happen to your family, but it can happen to anyone. Sophie is proof of that. She’s beautiful and talented, and I’m in awe of her achievements, but she will never walk again. I urge all parents of young drivers to tell them about Sophie and insist they use the Drive IQ software. It might not just save their legs, but also their lives. And at the end of the day, what could be more important?”

  • To find out more information about Drive IQ, or to download the free software visit
  • For more information about Brake, the road safety charity, visit www.brake.org.uk

Former Stig speaks out

Carol is not alone in her call for better training for novice and young drivers. Ben Collins, right, who was the Stig on BBC’s Top Gear, has released a new book called How To Drive.

Unhappy with the standard driving test taken in the UK, he’s
also on a mission to raise awareness about essential driving techniques.

In his book he reveals that although driving is the most dangerous thing we do on a daily basis, the average learner receives just 18 hours’ training – shocking when you consider that Starbucks baristas gets 24 hours to learn how to make a coffee.

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