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

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home