lifestyle

Experience: my eight-year-old son drove us down the dual carriageway


It was the end of the school day in early December 2018 and Ben, my eight-year-old, jumped into the passenger seat of my silver Ford Ka. He attended the same primary school I taught at, so we had a very easy routine. I turned the key in the ignition and we set off for the 30-minute drive to our home in Essex.

We chatted about all the normal things: what he wanted for dinner, what homework he had. About five minutes from home, I pulled on to a fairly busy dual carriageway. Our turning was two miles away, so I navigated into the left-hand lane. I was doing 65mph. The radio was on and Ben turned it up when his favourite song came on. Singing along with him to Paris by the Chainsmokers was the last thing I remember.

In the months since, Ben has filled in what happened next. He turned the music up, we were singing, and he asked me a question. Apparently, I was staring into space, eyes wide open, not blinking. I didn’t answer. He looked over at me and yelled: “Mum?!” He thought I was joking around. He waved his hand in front of my eyes, trying to make me blink. But after about 10 seconds, I started shaking vigorously. I was dribbling and my eyes rolled into the back of my head. Because my muscles were tensing, my foot pushed down on the accelerator and the car sped up. Ben knew something was really wrong.

I gripped the steering wheel tightly, then let go. That’s when we began swerving to the right. Other cars were beeping. We crashed into the central reservation and scraped along it as the car continued to pick up speed. Ben said I was still shaking and making strange noises. My foot was jammed on the accelerator, so Ben leaned over and took the wheel. He steered us back into the right-hand lane. But we were getting faster and approaching the car in front. He steered into the left-hand lane, where the same thing happened; again he was able to avoid an impact.

Eventually, my foot slipped off the accelerator and we started to slow down. I’d gone completely limp and was slumped over the wheel. Ben saw the grass verge and navigated us there, putting the hazard lights on in the process. He was scared, he said, because he didn’t know what was happening, or if the car would speed up again. But when we reached the grass, the car stalled. If he hadn’t taken control we could easily have had a high-speed crash that could have killed us and other road users.

People in a van had noticed what was going on – they had thought it was someone drunk and had sped up to drive parallel to us. They said that they saw me slumped over the wheel and Ben’s hands reaching over from the passenger seat, steering the car. They pulled over with us when our car stopped. One of the men opened the driver’s door and asked if I was OK. Ben kept saying: “Please save my mummy.”

When I came round, it felt as if I’d blinked. I turned to Ben and said: “Where are my keys?” I was trying to find them and Ben said: “Mum, something happened.” I laughed because I thought he was joking.

Then I realised we were on the side of the road, and saw people standing around the car, and that the passenger door was open. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never passed out before. I’m fit and healthy, and I’d felt fine all day. It didn’t feel real.

The men from the van stayed with us until the ambulance arrived. At the hospital, tests indicated I’d had a seizure. I may never know why it happened. Ben had been so brave during the whole experience, but once we got to the hospital and he saw my partner, he ran over to him for a cuddle and had a little cry.

After you have a seizure, you can’t drive for six months, so my licence was revoked. I’m driving again now. I’d always thought of myself as a good driver – confident and careful, especially when Ben’s in the car. I passed my theory and driving test first time, with no minors. But sometimes, now, particularly if I’m alone, I feel nervous.

A taxi driver behind us caught it all on his dashcam, and the footage ended up in a BBC show about people who are filmed on CCTV saving lives. Everyone always asks Ben how he knew what to do. But he doesn’t think he did anything special. He was cool, calm and collected. I’m so proud of him. Ben’s always a great passenger; this is proof that when he’s older, he’ll be a great driver, too.

As told to Sophie Haydock

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