The day I ran over a child: A father’s haunting account of every driver’s worst nightmare
From report in the Independent 28 May 2010 where Dr Nick Foreman describes the day he ran over a little boy and his aunt
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 were all excited about seeing her. At the last minute we had arranged to meet at a different station than usual.
It was 6.35 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, out of reflex, hit my brakes.
The car skidded a short distance 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. I got out of the car, leaving the engine running and the door open. Traffic had stopped behind me and on the other side of the road ahead of me. For a very few seconds everything was still.
The child, who looked about three years old and was well wrapped in an anorak, was crying in a heap a few yards in front of my car; the adult had been thrown farther.
Neither seemed to have any obvious injuries. At this point I stopped thinking normally.
I had no idea what to do. It was probably 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 take ages. There was a dislocation between the absolute panic now enveloping me and the calm voice on the other end of the line.
I grabbed a bystander to ask where we were and they very sensibly gave me a postcode.
By this point, a large crowd 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 couldn’t do anything beyond making sure that nobody was moved. I felt incompetent and could only think that I had done this act. I had actually done this.
Despite the unreality, this was really happening. It became clearer what had happened. The child had just 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 all right, 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, and calming. She established where I was and said she’d be there shortly in a taxi.
The traffic was well backed up on either side of the car and neither the police nor ambulance had appeared. It must have been about seven or eight minutes after the accident when an off-duty ambulance paramedic appeared and quickly took control of the scene with total authority.
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 (still running) and to sit in my car. At this point, my autonomy had been decisively removed.
Then a rapid response team arrived in an ambulance car. Another five minutes after that, thank God, an ambulance. I heard them apologise for being so long. The police seemed to keep on getting me in and out of the car. They were all very young, and were polite but firm.
They started to appeal for witnesses, who they began to interview as the ambulance men got out support stretchers carefully to move the bodies.
A man tapped on my car window. I got out. He said he was the child’s father. He asked me if I was all right, and said he thought his son was going to be OK. The paramedic then came over. He told me not to be frightened about the stretchers. He didn’t think there was any major injury.
The ambulance sped off and a police sergeant appeared. He was less friendly, and spent a long time inspecting my car – particularly the front of it. He ordered the young policemen to chalk the road to identify my car position.
Then my wife appeared, walking along the road with her luggage. We kissed and she checked that I was as well as could be expected. 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 car and the children home. The police then explained that I would need to accompany them to the police station, where I would be breathalysed and they would take a statement.
They asked me if I had been intimidated by the crowd (I hadn’t). The police were now friendly and sympathetic. All the witnesses corroborated my story. Slowly, my autonomy was returning.
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.
After that, I was told that no action would be taken against me because the incident was clearly an accident.
Then I was taken home by one of the young policemen, who was supportive and chatty. He gave me his name and phone number and told me to ring him if I needed to talk.
This policeman 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 thank God on this occasion I wasn’t. Nor was I fiddling with my mobile phone, sat nav or CD player – all of which I do, or have done.
I think I was probably going at 20 miles per hour at the point of impact. Maybe, having read my story, now you will agree with me that this speed should be the limit in built-up areas.