The devastation caused by a mobile phone

I was waiting for my children to get into the swimming pool when the daughters of a friend told us that their grandparents had brought them. Their dad had apparently been in a car accident. At that point, I assumed it was a minor knock because, after all, the children were swimming. It was only later that I realised that the family were trying to keep things as normal as possible. When I think back to my shock at hearing the true reality of the accident even today, some five years later, it brings tears to my eyes. It should never have happened.

It was caused by someone using their mobile phone while driving a lorry. I’m certain he didn’t mean for any of the events to happen and I am sure he will never truly understand the devastation he caused. Despite the publicity around this accident and subsequent accidents, I am personally not convinced that the message about the risks has truly got through to some people. The number of times I have seen people using their phones in cars, vans and even lorries is scary. That flick to look at a message, the wondering who phoned is enough to lose concentration for the seconds it takes to crash.

This is Adam’s Story, I am very proud and amazed by what he and his lovely family have achieved since. Adam has even worked with the police to talk to drivers who were caught using phones. However, what I say doesn’t matter as much as Adam’s story. We first published this story in January 2017, just over 5 months after the accident. Read on to find out more

Recalling the reports

In December 2016 the news reported a push to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving, placing the offence on a par with manslaughter. This was in part a result of a terrible accident that involved Adam Pearson from Milton Keynes.  It showed the devastation caused by the use of a mobile phone at the wheel, and how crucial the service of the Air Ambulance is.

This me

My name is Adam Pearson, and on 10th August 2016, I discovered how lethal the combination of a mobile phone and a moving vehicle can be. On 11th August, I gradually emerged from the void of anaesthesia to see the hectic environment of a hospital emergency department and recovery room. Through my haze, I was told about a road traffic accident, I had been airlifted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and had spent the last few hours in surgery.

A simple event, shocking results

Anaesthetic takes away shock and panic, so I reacted with remarkable calm. Although I had no memory of any accident, I established that I had been alone in the car and my wife and children were safe. Some hours earlier, I’d come to a halt at the back of a queue of traffic on the A34. At 5:13 pm, a heavy goods vehicle approached the back of the queue. The driver was busy changing music on his mobile phone.

Later proven beyond doubt to have been distracted for at least 8 seconds, with strong evidence that he barely looked at the road for up to a minute or more. When being sentenced, the judge said he “may as well have been driving with his eyes closed.”

He looked up when 22 metres away from the back of the queue. Unable to react in time, he crashed into the rear of my car at 51mph.  Dashcam footage showed that in the split second before impact, I had turned the car to the left, evidently aware of what was about to happen. This small but significant movement caused my car to be pushed towards the verge and launch into the air after impact with the van in front, landing on the roof in the ditch. The footage shows that it took a few seconds for my car to accelerate from 0 to 51mph and come crashing back to rest.

I was lucky, tragically others were not

I’d suffered multiple injuries. An aortic rupture, 5 thoracic spinal fractures, 19 broken ribs, a collapsed lung and multiple lacerations. I was bleeding heavily both internally and externally and was in desperate need of medical intervention. I was lucky. Tragically, three vehicles ahead, a mother, her two sons and a step-daughter – children of similar ages to my own – had been killed on impact. In the vehicle behind them, a father and son were forced to watch helplessly as their loved ones – partner, daughter, sister, friends – died because of a mobile phone. I’m here to tell the story because Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance were able to attend.

I could have been a statistic

I later discovered that aortic rupture has a 90% mortality rate, and of those, 75% die at the scene due to internal bleeding and consequential loss of blood pressure. Of all road traffic accident deaths, 18% are related to aortic rupture, an injury often associated with sudden deceleration.

The Air Ambulance doctor and paramedics took the difficult decision to leave those already confirmed dead and attend to me as the only life-critical casualty. I was cut free from the car, sedated and transfused with blood before being flown to the nearest major trauma centre.

Ever grateful to air ambulance

I have no memory of the Air Ambulance service, but I’ll be forever grateful for what they did. Because of their commitment, professionalism and skill, I’m hoping to make a full recovery and I’m fortunate enough to be able to look forward to a future with my family. If only everyone involved in this dreadful event could have seen the same outcome.

The lorry driver was sentenced to 10 years for 4 counts of causing death by dangerous driving. He’ll serve half of that time. By most people’s reckoning, simply not long enough. Meanwhile, the country’s regional air ambulances continue to provide such remarkable emergency trauma care with no public funding.

The statistics

Between 2013 and 2019 mobile phone use while driving accounted for nearly 800 deaths or very serious injuries. In 2019 alone, nearly 300 accidents were caused by distractions including mobile phones. Fixed penalty points are getting tougher but this will not bring back a sibling, parent or friend. Keep everyone safe and put your phone away.