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Driving a car

Women Behind the Wheel

Lets talk about the stigma that accompanies women behind the wheel. If we’re not texting whilst driving we’re applying then re-applying make-up, obviously. As you drive past an accident its natural to wonder what’s happened, and then you see one of the drivers is a woman, and it all becomes clear. SHE obviously wasn’t paying attention, its got to be her fault, right? Well no, not really. This is all bullshit.

Nearly 6 months ago I was in a reasonably serious car accident. And absolutely none of it was my fault.

On the 3rd of March at around 6.30pm I was driving home from work on the M6. There was some awful road works over the bridge near Junction 21a so the limit was dropped to 40mph. The traffic was pretty busy so I’ve turned down my Frozen soundtrack and I’m just watching my distance and driving calmly in the second lane. I noticed a lorry in the third lane attempt to over take my lane of traffic, when a car from the forth lane pulls in front of him. I notice him flash his lights and break excessively. I look in my drivers side mirror and see the corner of the lorry a little two close for comfort, the next thing I know I’m spinning across three lanes of traffic. The lorry had attempted to merge lanes and slammed into my back bumper on the drivers side, sending me spinning, until I’m side on with the front of his lorry. He then hit me a couple more times as he was still moving forward, until I eventually spun again and my passenger side back bumper bounced against the central reservation leaving me stationary, sitting in the forth lane facing on coming M6 traffic.

I’ve never really gone through anything like this before, no serious life or death situations, no serious illnesses (touch wood), so this was so very big. I had my first ‘I might die here’ moment. With each time the lorry collided with me I thought to myself ‘there’s no way I’m surviving the next one, the next ones it’.  All I remember is keeping my foot on the clutch and trying to break, and being absolutely terrified. When my car came to a stop I freaked out even more. I couldn’t tell if I was seriously injured (thankfully I wasn’t) but I’ve clearly seen too many movies because I was adamant my car was moments from exploding. So I immediately turned off the engine and tried to exit the car. But the drivers side was so smashed in I couldn’t open the door, or any others. And this sent me into a frenzy. I was trapped. Thankfully a kind man, who was driving just behind me and witnessed the whole thing, pulled up and came to my rescue. He managed to force my door open, asked me if I was injured, told me to take a breath and reminded me I might need my handbag, my phone and my shopping. I was so eager to leave the car I was willing to leave it all behind. He then escorted me across the motorway to the hard shoulder and over the barrier. And there I stood, Tesco bag in hand, shaking like a leaf staring at the wreck that was my first ever car.

I’ll take this opportunity to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to this man who helped me out of my car and who stood with me whilst I waited for the police. You didn’t need to do any of that. You could of drove straight past, seen me stood at the side of the road and sighed ‘damned those female drivers’, as I’m sure was the reaction of many. But you didn’t, you put your safety and time on the line to help me. When I began to cry you put your arm around me and kept telling me it was all going to be OK, you reminded me how lucky I was to walk away unharmed, how the car was just a piece of metal. I wish now I’d taken your name so I could contact you and tell you how grateful I am, because I really needed all that.

The lorry driver eventually came over to me, gave me a hug and apologised, proclaiming he didn’t see me. Its nice he came over to do this, but his true colours soon appeared. When we began exchanging details he became very defensive. Making snide comments like when I crashed into him, when I hit him, even though he moved into my lane. Later that day, around 10/11 at night he rang me, drunk, and gave me some more wonderful words of wisdom; “Next time just don’t be in that spot with a lorry, just try and speed up to get out the way.” Yeah, OK. I obviously chose to be in an accident. Believe me when I say if I could have, in any way prevented this nightmare I would have. I had no room to move, and no time to think. What scares me the most is the fact that there was nothing I could do differently to avoid it next time, if it was to happen again.  Every time I drive now I see lorries over taking, under taking, merging lanes, and I notice cars in the same position I was, and yet they don’t end up spinning across three lanes of traffic. So the more I think about it, the more I realise, it was his negligence, not necessarily just the blind spot excuse that caused all this, and absolutely nothing to do with my driving.

His comments have stayed with me, as has the whole experience. My confidence in driving escaped me. And I’ve spent 6 months in therapy to try to eradicate the idea that I’ll die every time I get in a car. But his comments, or anyone’s comments, on women drivers, really get to me now. He made me question my driving, when I had many miles of experience and no accidents behind me. I know I was in no way responsible for this, but still, when I tell people I had an accident I get the feeling they still assume it was my fault, because I’m a young female driver.  So I always feel the need to add ‘he admitted full liability’ to the end of my story.

So I’m trying, with this article, to disperse the stigma surrounding female drivers. I have as much faith in women behind the wheel as I do men. We’re all equal out there on the roads.

I’m planning on writing next about the aftermath of the crash, my experiences with solicitors, physiotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to give some advice and tips on how to handle all of this. Hopefully its not something you ladies need to read but just incase you’ve had a similar experience it might help guide you through. I know I could have done with it at the time.

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