Few drivers are more aware of the dangers on the roads – and the devastating injuries which can be caused in a moment – than trucker Steve Turpin.
An HGV driver with decades of experience behind the wheel, Mr Turpin has been involved in two accidents caused by the actions of others which have had a massive impact on his life, and that of his family, both physically and emotionally.
Only his quick actions and experience prevented an accident being much worse than it could have been when a distracted driver pulled across the path of his 44 tonne artic lorry.
By instinctively swerving to avoid a head on collision and jamming on his breaks, Steve ensured both he and the other woman, who was driving a small Astra, walked away.
Suffering long-term injuries to his neck and lower back, and pins and needles down his left arm and both legs, Mr Turpin knows it could easily have been much worse, as had been the case in his previous accident 19 years earlier.
However, this latest close escape brought difficult memories flooding back.
Accident caused re-emergence of post-traumatic stress linked previous family crash
Mr Turpin suffered from the re-emergence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), linking back to his 1996 accident which led to his wife Joanne losing her leg and his son spending two weeks in a coma having been crushed under the lorry cab.
Those psychological injuries were significant.
“The most recent accident ended up relatively minor in terms of physical injuries, but I was in a mess in my head as a result of it,” Mr Turpin said.
“If I’d not acted so quickly we’d have had a head on collision and my 44 tonne truck would have gone straight through her car.
“As with all accidents, it happened so quickly and I just saw a woman sat in the front seat heading towards me. I panicked that there would also be children in the back and that they would get injured, like happened to me and my son years ago.
“We walked away relatively unharmed physically, but it brought all that happened before back to me and I couldn’t cope. I was in a mess really. I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t eating and I didn’t want to be working as a driver any more. I was really struggling.”
Trailing car flashing its lights caused distraction, leading to serious accident and injuries
In that 1996 accident, Mr Turpin, 52, of Rothwell, near Leeds, West Yorkshire, had been travelling in his HGV with his wife at the time, Joanne, and five-year-old son Robert when his wagon tipped over.
All happened in a matter of seconds. His family often travelled with him on a Friday evening, allowing the family to spend time together on a Saturday when his shift had finished.
“I hardly saw my boy those days due to working night shifts, so this was a way of spending time together at a weekend and he often came out with me on a Friday as it was all covered on my insurance,” he said.
“On this night though there were roadworks on the motorway and I was travelling through them. I remember being distracted by a driver behind me who was flashing his lights trying to get past me. The next thing I knew I had clipped a large temporary road sign and the container on the back began to rock. I couldn’t get it back steady and we tipped.”
The scene which met Mr Turpin when his truck came to a halt on its side was one of devastation.
Both his son, who had been in the passenger seat, and his wife, who had been on the bed behind the driver’s seat, were trapped under his turned-over cab.
“It was terrifying. My boy was under the wing mirror trapped and was out cold. He effectively died and had to be resuscitated at the side of the road. Joanne was half way through the window of the cab and also trapped,” he said.
“I was desperately trying to lift the lorry off them, but obviously I had no chance and it was only when the ambulance arrived that they were both freed and taken to hospital. You just think that’s it. I thought I’d lost my son and my wife, all in second. That is the reality of the danger on the roads when things go wrong.”
Legal case provided vital support to recover and £20,000 damages
Both survived, although Robert was in a coma for two weeks and Joanne lost a leg as a result of the accident.
The life-changing impact of that accident came flooding back following the most recent incident, and Mr Turpin says it was only with the support of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, secured through legal support from road accident claims specialists Hudgell Solicitors, which helped him recover over a four year period.
“The psychiatric support was key for me, without doubt, it was excellent,” he said.
“I have to admit, as a former miner and a typical Yorkshireman, I was doubtful. I don’t do emotions and feelings, or talking over things, and my approach had always been to just get on with life and deal with it, but I wasn’t able to.
“I only really truly appreciated how much the sessions had done for me when I had completed them. I realised that I’d been using my coping strategies and that it had helped me feel comfortable driving again. I had been ready to jack it all in, and I don’t know what I would have done. It was this help that got me through.”
The legal case relating to the latest accident also secured £20,000 damages for Steve, compensating him for his injuries, the treatment he received and some other minor expenses.
Accidents were avoidable with more patience and concentration
Looking back at both accidents, Steve says they were both completely avoidable.
And as road safety charity Brake urges drivers to cut their speed to save lives during Road Safety Week from November 20-26, he says there are two more regular contributors to avoidable accidents.
“Lack of concentration and a lack of patience are the biggest dangers I see on the roads,” says Steve, who drives more than 150,000 miles a year.
“In the case of my most recent accident the driver of the car simply wasn’t paying attention to the road and appeared distracted by some people on the pavement. It was that lack of concentration which meant she didn’t see me – in a huge truck – before she swung around.
“For my first accident many years ago it was a lack of patience from the driver behind. We were going through roadworks, and as it was narrower lanes he wanted me to move over and pass.
“I see this all the time. People don’t want to be behind lorries, they want to get past and see the open road ahead, and often drivers will nip into the space we leave ahead for breaking. It is dangerous driving and it happens all the time.
“Lorry drivers know how long it takes to stop, but when we leave a gap you can guarantee it will be filled. Had the driver in this case been patient and sat behind me until the end of the roadworks, the accident wouldn’t have happened.
“It is all down to simple, careful driving. My son drives now, but he’d never do it for a job, and Joanne passed her test last year. We are careful drivers. We know the consequences.”
Psychological impact of road accidents often as significant as physical injuries
Andrew Uridge, of Hudgell Solicitors, supported Steve in his compensation claim, and said he was happy the support provided throughout his claim helped him on the road to recovery.
“We see many accidents where people suffer from serious, life-changing injuries, and there is a clear need in such cases for people to be compensated for their loss. Equally, physical injuries which can be considered as fairly minor can still have a long term health impact, as will the degenerative injuries to Mr Turpin’s neck and lower back.
“Also, the impact of psychological injuries following road traffic accidents should never be under-estimated. Many people suffer from being unable to sleep, get behind the wheel again, either as drivers or passengers, or fear the roads themselves.
“In this case the support was crucial in helping Mr Turpin return to a state of mind where he was happy again in his work, having at one stage felt like he couldn’t really continue.
“It would have had a huge impact on his life had he been unable to continue working as a driver, so we have been delighted to help him receive the support he needed.”