An inquest has recently been held at Worthing Magistrates’ Court into the death of Toby Woolford, a young man from Horsham, who died when his car collided with an HGV on the A27 near Arundel station.
Drivers speak of fatal crash horror
A man who saw a fatal road crash carried on driving because he did not realise how serious it was.
Toby Woolford, 19, of Andrews Road, Southwater, was killed when his Vauxhall Corsa was involved in a collision with a lorry on the A27 near Arundel station.
Christopher Howard, of Potters Mead, Littlehampton, told the inquest yesterday (Thursday): “I saw this car coming westbound down the hill. He had lost control and was in a skid, basically coming towards me. I still can’t remember if I took avoiding action, but he missed me. I looked in the mirror and saw the car go sideways into the lorry that was behind me. It did a little hop in the air and stopped.
“The collision itself didn’t appear to be that great. I realised that I didn’t have a mobile phone. I saw a couple of people. I knew there were plenty of people behind the lorry so I carried on. My initial thought was ‘Wow – he’s lucky’ because the passenger side hit the lorry. I didn’t perceive it was a life-threatening accident.
“It’s a 40 mph limit there. He was certainly doing all of that. Whether he was exceeding it I wouldn’t like to say, but it was certainly too fast for the conditions. It wasn’t raining at the time, but there had been a downpour.”
HGV driver Ben Nesbitt, of Middle Mead, Fareham, Hampshire, said he had been driving eastwards at about 30mph shortly after 7am on Thursday, August 25, last year.
He told the inquest at Worthing Magistrates’ Court: “I headed up the hill and a car came round the corner. I applied the brakes and it hit straight after. I saw there was just one person in the car, pulled the lorry back (reversed) and tried to help. I phoned the police straight away. I had to give my phone to someone else because I couldn’t say where I was.”
Angela Standing, of Norfolk Cottages, Warningcamp, Arundel, said: “I don’t know what made me look in my rear view mirror, but as I did a car behind me looked as though he clipped the kerb. I could see he was struggling to rectify himself (wrestling with the steering wheel), but he didn’t. The lorry driver didn’t have anywhere to go.
“I ran back up the hill because I was first-aid trained and I thought perhaps I could help. I went round to the driver’s side and the young gentleman. I held his head up so he could breathe. I asked him ‘What’s your name?’, but there was no response. I called him ‘Sunshine’ because I wanted to call him something. I gave him a running commentary and kept telling him the cavalry was coming, don’t worry, everything’s going to be okay.”
Firefighters, ambulancemen and police soon arrived, but Mr Woolford had sustained severe head injuries and he died at the scene. Tests for drugs and alcohol proved negative.
Quite obviously, a tragic incident – a young man dead, with his entire life ahead of him. A moment’s inattention, or carelessness, from Toby led to a unrecoverable swerve that resulted in his death.
I don’t have a lot to say about this accident. What did strike me, however, is that although Toby died of severe head injuries – thankfully very quickly – the inquest did not discuss how Toby’s life might have been saved by something he could have been wearing, but was not, at the time of the collision.
This is quite proper, of course; it would be unseemly to suggest or imply that Toby was somehow responsible for his own death by failing to use protective equipment while inside his car – a crash helmet, for instance. Such a helmet, similar to those worn by motorcyclists or racing drivers, could possibly have saved Toby’s life. On the other hand, it might not have. We simply don’t know. And it would be wrong to speculate about it. Especially because no driver, or any occupant of a car, would ever see fit to wear crash helmets while using their car for ordinary, day to day activities. It would be quite improper to talk about how Toby wasn’t wearing a crash helmet, even if there was a remote possibility it could have saved his life, because drivers are not expected to wear them.
Bicycle users, on the other hand, are increasingly expected to wear helmets, with the attendant consequence that their failure to do so at a time when they are killed in road collisions is mentioned, quite often irrespective of any evidence that the helmet may or may not have been of any use whatsoever.
When the Evening Standard reported the death of the cyclists Min Joo Lee at King’s Cross last year, their initial article contained the information that she was not wearing a helmet. This was hardly relevant, given that she was crushed to death by the lorry behind her (the story was quickly amended).
The media are not alone in presuming the effectiveness of helmets for cyclists; the medical profession frequently sing from the same hymnsheet. Midlands Air Ambulance are, it seems, quite keen for cyclists to wear helmets, presenting us with a list of injuries suffered by cyclists who were not wearing helmets in their region, along with a list of injuries to helmeted cyclists that, it is alleged, could have been a lot worse had their helmets been absent.
There are some people who have their helmet to thank for their reduced level of injury. For example the ambulance service was called to a man who had fallen from his bicycle in Ellesmere in Shropshire. Although he was wearing a helmet, it was badly damaged and the man was initially knocked unconscious. The responder who was first on scene said that without the helmet he could have been significantly worse. She added that his friend wasn`t wearing one and got a real shock and vowed to wear one in future. The man was released from hospital later in the day. Other examples include:
- A man in his 40s who was airlifted to hospital from Evesham in Worcestershire who had a head injury that could have been a lot worse had he not been for wearing a helmet.
- A 50 year old man who had his helmet to thank for not suffering more serious injuries when he was in collision with a car in Cannock
Sadly some people who don’t wear helmets are not as fortunate:
- A 60 year old man who was airlifted from Rugby who had suffered a severe head injury after an incident with a car.
- A 17 year old from Coventry ended up in hospital after suffering a serious head injury after a collision with a car – he wasn’t wearing a helmet.
- A cyclist was taken on blue lights to the Regional Trauma Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham after a collision with a car in Stirchley – he had suffered a broken jaw and other head injuries – no helmet was worn
- A cyclist in Wolverhampton suffered multiple injuries after a collision with a van. No helmet was worn.
This latter group of people listed are quite obviously not very fortunate, but why their lack of fortune should be connected in any way to their lack of helmet when suffering ‘multiple injuries’, or indeed a ‘broken jaw’, is something of a mystery to me, given that a helmet does not protect the jaw, nor obviously the entire body. Nor, indeed, are the applicable standards for cycle helmets any indication of effectiveness in the event of a collision with a motor vehicle – and yet all these individuals listed by Midlands Air Ambulance were struck by motor vehicles.
This baffling absence of logic is sadly par for the course for the medical profession, who have an unfortunate tendency to formulate policy by anecdote when it comes to helmet advocacy. Here’s another anecdote, with the BBC helpfully reinforcing the message the paramedic self-evidently wanted to convey -
0730 Debabani and James have already been called out to the scene of a collision between a car and a cyclist. The cyclist, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, has a swollen and bruised ankle. James, the paramedic, says the cyclist was lucky to escape without suffering any head injuries.
James, I know you’re eager to get the message out, but you’re only making yourself look foolish by attempting to crowbar it in to a case in which someone has suffered an injured foot. The same goes for you, BBC.
All this silliness – and it’s very easy to find – is, as I said above, a consequence of helmet use for cyclists becoming increasingly expected and ‘natural.’ ‘The cyclist’ is rapidly becoming the person at fault for failing to take a measure that is naturally required of them; the judiciary are now apparently willing to adjust the sentences of people responsible for causing the deaths of cyclists on the grounds that the killed individual was not wearing a helmet, a ‘mitigating factor’ suggesting leniency. This is in the absence of any evidence of whether a helmet might have had any effect whatsoever on the outcome of the collision. Coroners are also willing to indulge in idle speculation about whether a helmet could have saved the life of a cyclist who was struck and then run over by cars.
Needless to say, there is never any such speculation, however well- or ill-founded, about whether crash helmets could have saved the lives of car drivers in collisions, either by judges, magistrates, coroners, or the media.
Nor, as far as I can tell, are the British Medical Association, or paramedic organisations, advocating the adoption of crash helmets for car occupants, despite the fact that severe head and chest injuries are the prime causes of death for car occupants in collisions. It would seem absurd for them to do so, of course; using a crash helmet for something so mundane and everyday as using a car for everyday transport would mark you out as an eccentric.
This despite the fact that the wearing of a crash helmet could – and I stress could – save the lives of car users like Toby Woolford.