Devastated mum of teen crash victim warns teens more at risk of crashes than crime

  • Sharron Huddleston has been a leading campaigner for road safety since losing her daughter in a road accident

Parents are being warned that their children are more at risk from death or injury in road crashes than from drinking alcohol, taking drugs or violent crime.

The warning comes from Sharron Huddleston, whose 18-year-old daughter Caitlin was killed in 2017 on the A595 in Bootle, Cumbria, after the car she travelling in as a front-seat passenger collided with an oncoming van.

Her friend driving the car, who also died in the crash, had passed her driving test just four months earlier.

Another friend, who was travelling in the back of the car, and the driver of the oncoming van, were both seriously injured in the collision.

Neither driver was exceeding the speed limit, but Caitlin’s friend was travelling on an unfamiliar rural road in wet weather.

Caitlin Huddleston was a front-seat passenger in the fatal crash.

Mrs Huddleston, from Millom in Cumbria, who has two other children, has now made it her mission to help others to avoid the devastation that her family has faced since Caitlin’s sudden and preventable death.

She said: "If only I had known the risks, I would not have let Caitlin get in the car that day.

"Had we been made aware just how many young people lose their lives every year in road crashes, we could have made an informed decision about whether to allow Caitlin to travel in a friend’s car.

"She only left the house 15 minutes before the crash occurred.

"I had just fastened the buttons on the back of Caitlin's blouse for her and, thankfully, she turned around just before leaving home and asked me: 'Do I look all right, Mam?' They were her last words to me."

Caitlin and her friends had been heading out to an Italian restaurant in Gosforth when the collision happened.

The car spun onto the opposite side of the road directly in front of a van travelling in the other direction. Caitlin was killed instantly.

Mrs Huddleston added: "Parents need to know the risks. Road collisions are the leading cause of death for young people worldwide.

"We need as many people as possible to know how at risk young, novice drivers are when they get behind the wheel, particularly when carrying passengers of a similar age."You never think it will happen to you, but we are proof that it does."The girls weren’t doing anything wrong when the crash happened. They were just normal young people going out for a meal.

"Caitlin had just finished a business course at Kendal College and she worked at a cafe.

"Her nickname was Auds, after Audrey Hepburn, as she always wore her dark hair in a bun for work.”

Drivers and passengers in the 17 to 24 age group are far more likely to be killed or injured in a road crash than as a result of gun crime, knife crime, excessive drinking or taking drugs; issues which parents are often more likely to worry about. 

Mrs Huddleston's warning to other parents coincides with Road Safety Week, organised by Brake, the road safety charity, which begins today (14 November).

It was only after Caitlin’s tragic death that Mrs Huddleston and her family learned the truth about the extreme risks facing young, novice drivers and their passengers:

  • Road collisions are the leading cause of death worldwide for young people (15 to 29-years-old)

  • 24% of people killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads resulted from a collision involving a young driver (17 to 24-years-old), even though this group account for just 7% of the total driving population

  • 1 in 5 young drivers crash within a year of passing their test

More than 1500 young drivers are killed and seriously injured on UK roads every yearSince Caitlin’s death, Mrs Huddleston has been doing all she can she can to prevent future road crashes.

In particular, she is calling for a phased licensing system to be introduced in the UK, restricting young, newly-qualified drivers from carrying passengers until they have been driving for six months or more.Her plea was supported by the assistant coroner for Cumbria, Robert Chapman, who agreed that carrying similar aged passengers should be restricted until young drivers have gained a certain level of experience.

He wrote a Preventing Future Deaths Report to the government requesting this system. 

In 2020, Mrs Huddleston submitted written evidence to the Transport Select Committee Inquiry into Young and Novice Drivers, describing roads deaths as 'the forgotten epidemic'.She wrote: "Deaths from road crashes don’t receive the coverage in the same way as illness and disease often do. For people working in road safety this is baffling."Her efforts have been closely supported by AA President, Edmund King, who also featured Caitlin’s story in the AA’s recent rural roads campaign, which highlighted that the highest percentage of crashes involving young drivers occur on rural roads.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...