Car crashes are the biggest killers of young people aged between 17 and 30 – and East Sussex is no exception.
Speeding, drinking and mobile phones all have a part to play in this sobering statistic.
Every year for the past decade, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS), Sussex Police and the South East Coast Ambulance Service have held Safe Drive Stay Alive, an event aimed at fledgling drivers.
Packed with shocking scenes and tales from the front line, nothing is sugar-coated in the blue light services’ quest to prevent the teenage drivers becoming another statistic.
More than 300 sixth form students from William Parker, Battle Abbey and Claremont schools, filed in to the White Rock Theatre in Hastings last Friday (November 20) for the tenth anniversary Safe Drive Stay Alive.
Andy Reynolds, director of prevention and protection at ESFRS, opened the event by explaining to students how important it was for them to be there.
He said: “We want young people to understand the risks and wider impacts of how they drive.
“We aren’t here to upset people, however, some of what they hear and see will hopefully move them, and help them to understand the importance of what we’ll be talking about today.”
This was followed-up with a hard-hitting 30-minute film, graphically demonstrating why texting behind the wheel is never a good idea.
The sight of bodies ricocheting around the car, the sound of a breaking neck and the main protagonist trapped in her car, screaming, is something which will surely stick with the students for a very long time.
But it was the harrowing real-life tales told by the wives and mothers of drivers who have died, not to mention the first-hand experiences of the emergency services, where the message truly hit home.
PC Lizzie Hall, from the Polegate-based Sussex Road Policing Unit, stepped on to the stage brandishing a yellow collision board, left at the side of the road following a crash which has left people dead or with life-changing injuries.
The boards have become all too common on the roads around East Sussex, with eight put up for drivers under the age of 25 this year alone.
ESFRS crew manager Justin Goodchild, from Battle Fire Station, recalled the grim task of being dispatched to find a missing limb, torn from a casualty after an encounter with a drunk and speeding young driver.
He also relayed the story of one girl who feigned feeling sick as an excuse to get out of a speeding car – a decision which saved her life.
He said: “That young man carried on, hit a wall and killed himself.
“That young lady is alive because she made that decision to get out of the car.”
For many, the most moving part of the event were the talks from two family members who have lost relatives to road traffic collisions.
Philippa Poulton lost Robert, her beloved husband of 30 years and the father of her two children, in a head-on car crash on October 31, 2012.
The 19-year-old other driver, who had veered onto the wrong side of the road, was not wearing a seatbelt and was killed instantly.
Robert, a baritone with the Glyndebourne Opera, was coherent when the emergency services arrived on the scene, telling them he was fine and asking them to attend to the girl.
But he suffered internal injuries and died in the ambulance.
Philippa said: “I will never hold his hand or look into his beautiful eyes again.
She added: “He will never see his children marry, or know the joy of holding a grandchild in his arms.”
Philippa holds no malice towards the young driver, adding: “I feel a tremendous sadness for the parents and those she left behind.”
Ali Reynolds from Eastbourne lost her son Lee after his car collided with a Transit van, just hours after he celebrated his 21st birthday.
Ali said: “At first we were told he had a badly broken leg, but he was conscious and laughing and joking with the A&E nurses.”
But Lee’s condition deteriorated. He had suffered internal injuries and was placed in a medically induced coma. He had suffered serious brain damage.
After Lee passed away, his organs were donated – two people had their sight restored while a grandmother with liver failure was given two extra years of life.
Addressing the students, Ali said: “I hope that none of your mothers will ever experience the pain I live with every day.”
She added: “We are immensely proud and thankful we had him in our lives for 21 years.”
* A second tenth anniversary Safe Drive Stay Alive event will take place at the Amex Stadium in Brighton on November 27, starting at 9.30am.
To register for tickets, email email@example.com