Road Safety Week Blog
Volunteer stories: Frances Darling
Frances Darling is a Brake volunteer whose sister, Sally Low, was killed while cycling in Moray, Scotland, in September 2013. Here, Frances talks about the impact of the loss on Sally's teenage sons, the procedures that followed and why she's calling on drivers and the government to ensure that all road users are safe on the roads.
I supported Road Safety Week and continue shouting about the safety of those on two wheels by encouraging everyone to be 'Bike Smart'. This is something that is very close to my heart. Sally was a single mum who cared for her two school-aged teenage sons. A young female driver lost control of her car and ploughed into Sally. There was an independent witness to the crash who confirmed that Sally had done nothing wrong. The force of the impact was so great, Sally was thrown into an adjacent field, her bike sheared in half, and she died at the scene from multiple injuries.
It is impossible to describe the sense of loss that I live with every day as a result of Sally’s death. Even after five years, the grief remains. As a family we cope, but the pain has not subsided. This is perhaps expected at family occasions such as Christmas, but there are small things every day that remind me that Sally is no longer here and there is nothing I can do to stop my tears.
Nothing I could do was ever going to bring Sally back or fill the enormous gap that was created in all our lives on that terrible day in September 2013. We realised the massive financial impact that was going to exist for Sally’s boys and we sought advice from a specialist cycling law firm about taking a compensation claim. The advice and support were a practical lifeline at a time when we were at our most vulnerable.
The claim was made directly to the driver’s insurance company in order to obtain financial support. To my surprise, the insurer advised that they were unable to proceed with the claim until they had further information from the police; they confirmed that this would not happen until after criminal proceedings were concluded.
My nephews, who had lost their mum in the most tragic of circumstances, had to wait nearly two years for compensation and financial security. This should not have happened. If we had not been able to step in to look after the boys and to support them financially, my nephews would have ended up in state care. This still makes me angry, given that the driver's insurance company could have assessed whether their policy holder, on the balance of probability, had been negligent based on the witness testimony and the report from their policyholder.
I have two messages from this year’s Road Safety Week. One is for car drivers and the other for both the UK and Scottish governments.
Firstly, when you obtain a licence to drive a car, it is an immense privilege and with it comes a great responsibility for both yourself and those around you. Excessive speed or moments of distraction can cause catastrophic results. While you may still be safe in a square metal box weighing in excess of two tonnes, cyclists and other vulnerable road users (motorcyclists, pedestrians and horse-riders) are also entitled to share the road. They are at greater risk of serious injury and, as I know only too well from losing my sister, death, if you make contact with them. Please look out for and recognise the vulnerability of cyclists and other vulnerable road users. They, like you, are travelling from one place to another but just happen to be using a different mode of transport.
Secondly, insurance companies cannot hide behind criminal proceedings to delay a claim for those who have suffered as a result of a road traffic collision, especially when there are witness statements available that confirm their policyholder has been at fault. If the civil legal system for road traffic claims was changed and brought in line with Europe under presumed liability, then it would be for the driver's insurer to establish fault and not the other way around. This would have helped Sally's boys and we would not have had to suffer added financial pressure at a time when we were least able to cope.
My nephews were not put at the centre of the legal system; this was wrong.
You can help by joining the Road Share Campaign for Presumed Liability.