The day I hit a child at 20mph – and realised the speed limit must be cut

In an impassioned appeal, Dr Nick Foreman remembers the near-fatal accident that convinced him of the need to stop motorists driving at 30mph in built-up areas

This is what happens and this is how it feels. I was driving along a well-lit suburban street with my two small stepchildren in the back of the car. We were on the way to pick up my wife who had been working away for a few days, and we were all excited about seeing her. It was 6.35pm on a dark February evening and I had some rather gloomy Radiohead music on the CD player.

In an instant, a few yards in front of me was a small child. He was followed by an adult. I remember thinking "WHAT THE..." and then reflexively hit my brakes. The car skidded and I ran into both of them. The child flew through the air, caught in the beam of my headlights. I didn't see the adult.

Traffic stopped behind me and on the other side of the road ahead of me. For a few seconds everything was still. The child, who looked about three years old, was crying in a heap a few yards in front of my car; the adult had been thrown further.

I stopped thinking normally. I had no idea what to do. It was probably only 30 seconds after the accident and already a crowd was appearing. I realised that I needed to phone the emergency services and I went back to my car and got my phone. I couldn't bring myself to address my children in the back seat.

Ringing 999 seemed to takes ages. There was a dislocation between the absolute panic now enveloping me and the calm voice on the other end. I grabbed a bystander to ask where we were. By this point, a large number of people had gathered.

My victims were clearly local with lots of family and friends in the vicinity. They surrounded the bodies lying on the road and after a few false starts at trying to be a doctor, I gave up. I felt incompetent and could only think that I had done this.

It started to become clearer what had happened. The child had got out of a car in a side street and had run towards the main road; his aunt had screamed and run after him. Both had run into my path.

Somebody tapped me on the shoulder. "Are you all right, mate? I saw everything. The kid ran out in front of you – there was nothing you could have done." These were very kind words. I remembered my children. I put my head back into the car – both were crying. I said everything was going to be fine, but I had no idea whether this was the truth.

On the road, nothing had changed. I rang my wife, incoherent. "Something awful has happened..." She was calm. She established where I was and said she'd be there shortly in a taxi. The traffic was backed up on either side of the car. It must have been about seven or eight minutes after the accident when an off-duty paramedic appeared and took control.

After a further five minutes or so the police arrived – lots of them. I was identified as the driver and was told to switch off my engine and sit in my car. Then a rapid-response team arrived in an ambulance car and another five minutes after that, thank God, an ambulance. I heard them apologise for being so long.

The policemen were very young. They were polite but firm and they started to appeal for witnesses, whom they began to interview as the ambulance men got out stretchers to carefully move the bodies.

A man tapped on my car window. I got out. He said he was the child's father. He asked me how I was and said he thought his son was going to be OK. A paramedic then came over. He told me not to be frightened about the stretchers, he didn't think there had been any major injuries.

The ambulance then sped off and a police sergeant appeared. He was less friendly and spent a long time inspecting my car. He ordered the young policemen to chalk the road, to show the position of my car.

My wife appeared, walking along the road with her luggage. The sergeant then allowed the car to be moved and one of the young policemen said he would take me home later. My wife drove the children home.

The police then explained that I would need to accompany them to the police station. They asked me if I had been intimidated by the crowd – I hadn't. The police were now friendly and sympathetic. The witnesses corroborated my story.

The ride in the police car was short and the police station was cold. I couldn't stop shaking. The Breathalyser test was carefully explained and I passed it. I was led through my witness statement by one policeman as another checked my car insurance and tax on their databases.

I was then told that no action would be taken against me and I was taken home by one of the young policemen. He told me to ring him if I needed to talk. He rang me a day or two later and told me that the aunt and the child had no broken bones and were both at home nursing some bruising.

The aunt wanted to talk to me and he asked whether he could give her my phone number. She rang me a few minutes later to tell me that she and her nephew were both well and to thank me for not driving fast. I told her that it was brave of her to try to save the child, and she laughed.

So what has this experience done to me? Suddenly, a few speeding points on my licence don't seem quite so innocent. If you have any, you should also feel ashamed. It is easy to exceed the speed limit and, thankfully, on this occasion, I wasn't. Nor was I fiddling with my mobile phone, sat-nav, or CD player, all of which I have done before.

I think I was going at 20mph at the point of impact, and maybe now you will agree with me that that should be the speed limit in built-up areas.

Dr Nick Foreman is a GP from Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. This article is published in this week's British Medical Journal

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballLive! Sanchez makes up for penalty miss to put Arsenal ahead
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all