GALLERY: Two-day crackdown catches 141 motorists flouting the law on March’s roads
TEN years ago Nick Bennett was cut out of his car after a head-on collision with a three-tonne lorry. He spent eight months in hospital, drifting in and out of a coma, and suffered a twisted brain stem.
Now 28, he is confined to a wheelchair. He had previously been a semi-professional footballer.
But this week, Nick told his story to more than a hundred drivers who had broken the law on Fenland’s roads - pleading with them to take more care.
The plea was part of a special police and fire service crackdown, which took place in March on Friday and Saturday.
Drivers caught using a mobile phone, speeding or not wearing a seatbelt were told they could avoid a ticket... if they attended a 20-minute course at March Fire Station.
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Over two days 141 motorists were caught breaking the law. Of these, 106 attended the fire station course while the rest were prosecuted or given a �60 fine. More than half of the offences were for not wearing a seatbelt.
Firefighter Chris Vaughan, who led the scheme, said: “It’s such a strong message because it comes from Nick. He wants people to be safe and he tells them that being trapped in his wheelchair is like a living nightmare.
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“People did get emotional and there were some tears. Speaking to Nick does really bring the issue to life for them.
“Sometimes when we go into schools people faint or cry. But that’s the sort of emotion that makes them learn their lesson.”
Offending drivers were shown hard-hitting videos of crashes and given alertness tests to demonstrate the effect of mobile phone use on reactions. They were also shown three cars which had been crushed in collisions.
Sergeant Martin Monger said the scheme would also be rolled out in Chatteris and Wisbech.
He said: “Even if we just save one person the trauma and injury of a car accident, I genuinely believe this is a good use of resources.
“We are enforcers of the law but the police are here to educate as well.”
‘It doesn’t get any easier’
FIREFIGHTER Chris Vaughan has worked at Thorney Fire Station for the last 10 years. In that time, he has seen 14 deaths on the roads between Eye and Guyhirn.
He said: “At the worst one I ever attended, the doctor had to cut a man open and massage his heart to bring him back. He survived. It doesn’t get any easier to see those things.”
Mr Vaughan leads a scheme called “Drive 2 Arrive” to teach people about safer driving. He spoke to dozens of motorists who had been caught driving illegally during the two-day crackdown.
He said: “In one respect they may have got away without a fine, but by coming to the course they were shown what can happen. That is a lot more beneficial.”
‘It took a minute and a half before we caught someone’
FENLAND District Councillors Kit Owen and Jan French travelled in the car with traffic officers to observe the operation.
Cllr French said she was astonished to learn that one driver, a builder from March, was caught breaking the law on BOTH Friday and Saturday.
On the Friday he accepted the invitation to the fire station, but on Saturday he was issued with a ticket.
Cllr Owen said: “It took about a minute and a half before we caught someone not wearing a seatbelt.
“This initiative is good because it alerts people to the fact that they could get caught at any minute.
“We’ve got to get out of this pattern where people think it’s fine not to wear a seatbelt.”
‘Close-up of operation in action’
REPORTER Rob Setchell and photographer Brian Purdy got a close-up of the operation in action when they joined two officers in their car patrol.
It took just under two and a half minutes of observation before a driver was spotted without her seatbelt on. She chose to take the fire station course after telling officers she had “forgotten” to belt up.
One traffic officer said: “It’s all about education and showing people first hand what can happen. You’re too young to die, no matter how old you are.”