FOLLOWING the launch of a safety campaign to reduce the number of irresponsible motorists on Bolton’s roads, crime reporter Miranda Newey put her own driving skills to the test

A HARD hitting awareness campaign has been launched by the fire service, police, Bolton Council and Bolton Council of Mosques to help turn potentially bad drivers into good ones behind the wheel.

Over the course of the next few months, the campaign will go to five mosques in Bolton.

They will involve firefighters demonstrating how they cut a trapped person out of a car, a police quiz on motoring offences resulting from a car not being properly maintained and a simulator which will show people what driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is like.

The scheme was prompted by two “racing” drivers who crashed in St Helens Road, Daubhill, leaving a 12-year-old boy and a market trader with serious injuries.

The crash, last July, left 11 people injured.

The following month another crash happened in Blackburn Road, Astley Bridge, in which high performance cars were involved and people were injured.

Having completed an advanced driving course and clocking up more than 12,000 miles a year in my car, I would class myself as a fairly confident driver — and I thought I would put myself to the test.

But being too confident is not always a good thing and after putting my skills to the test on the simulator I was in for a rude awakening.

My first challenge was to see the 10 driving offences on a Renault Clio. Spotting no seatbelt, a flat tyre, a broken wing mirror and tinted windows had me sailing to nearly full marks.

But fancy illegal number plates, where people try to create numbers or letters by placing coloured screws in the plates, nearly had me duped.

Pleased with my performance at the first hurdle, I settled into the simulator’s driving seat for the next challenge.

With an audience watching a screen showing my driving, I felt under pressure.

The first “drive” measured my ability to drive while using a hands-free mobile phone. As I tried to focus on the road, I was distracted by text messages flashing up on the screen asking me questions and demanding quick replies.

I tried to ignore the interference from the phone as I realised it was distracting me and was causing me to veer towards the centre of the road and almost into the path of what was, thankfully, only an oncoming digital car.

Not being able to see properly over the steering wheel also caused no end of problems as I kept breaking the 30mph speed limit — as my short height, combined with sitting in a boy racer “dipped seat” meant I could only see when the car was travelling at 40mph or above — not a safe combination.

Seeing my pitiful driving scores flash before me shocked me into thinking twice about using a hands-free device.

Playbacks of my driving showed me driving in a straight line then, as a message appeared, I verged sharply to the left and right.

The next challenge was an insight into what impact four glasses of wine would have on my driving.

It started off like every other drive and I was starting to wonder whether the simulator was sending out the right message on the screen.

But within seconds I was starting to feel dizzy from seeing my car struggle to keep in one lane of an imaginary motorway.

As I tried to keep control, I felt like I was jerking from one side of the road to the other, narrowly missing passing cars.

I can only describe the experience as driving on very bad ice, where you have no idea what will happen and just hope you come out of it in once piece.

All in all it was not a pleasant experience and one I do not intend to repeat, either in a simulator or in my own car.

The awareness course certainly knocked my confidence in my driving and has made me think twice about ramping up the volume on my Girls Aloud Greatest Hits CD while negotiating the roads ahead.

Phone calls to my family and friends can now also wait a bit longer, rather than multi-tasking and dicing with death on busy roads.

The next community driving event will be held at the Masjid Noor ul Islam Mosque in Prospect Street, Halliwell, on March 21. Residents are encouraged to attend.