Lying in hospital in 1999 after the accident, I never thought I would drive again; and neither did my doctors. In fact, for the first few months, we didn't know whether I would ever walk again. My pelvis and left knee were shattered, and my right foot was almost detached from my leg at the ankle. During the seven months I spent in hospital those wonderful surgeons, doctors and nurses not only saved my life, but managed to put me back together again. Of course I wasn't the same as I had been before; my left side was too badly damaged, so they repaired me as best they could.
Amputation was considered. I was told that, if I had a prosthetic, I would be more mobile than if I kept my leg. After agonising over it for weeks, my surgeon put forward a suggestion. It would mean that my left leg would never work again properly, and I would always have to use a walking aid or a wheel chair, but I would still be able to paint my toenails.
My left hip is now a series of metal plates and my left knee has been pseudo-arthrodised, which means it's fixed in one position. I'd always wanted long legs, but I had no idea how long a leg can be when it doesn't bend. I'm also 6cms shorter on the left side, but my right leg works. Sometimes the ankle on my "good" leg is weak, so if I am going to walk further than about 30metres I use a wheel chair.
It was a long journey from being absolutely immobile in hospital, through rehabilitation where I learned to do simple things like turn over in bed, sit up and dress myself; to now being completely independent.
In 2001 I had made sufficient progress so that I only had to use crutches to get around, but I still didn't drive. My friends drove me everywhere, did my shopping and were just generally wonderful. It was difficult because I'd always been independent and active, as well as being resistant to asking for help; but I just accepted that this was the way life had to be.
Then, one Saturday morning after a particularly stormy night that had decimated my rose bushes, a leaflet was put in my letterbox from a garden centre offering "specials" on roses. I called the friends who had been so helpful, but they were all busy. I called three local taxi companies, but two had no vehicles and the third was going to charge so much that the "special" on the roses would have cost a fortune. That was when I decided I would try to drive.
I realised it was fear that was stopping me from getting into the driver’s seat. After all it was my left leg that was damaged; so, I told myself, I should be able to drive an automatic. I had been so frozen with fear, and so depressed, that the thought of driving an automatic had never occurred to me before.
I called a garage and they brought an automatic car round for me to try out. I'm not sure who was the most scared - me or the salesman. When he saw my disability, and I told him I hadn't driven for a couple of years, his mouth went dry and his face went very pale.
After we'd both given each other some encouragement, and I'd convinced him (and myself) that nothing bad was going to happen, it was time to put my newly found courage to the test. Very gingerly I drove the car around the complex where I live and felt a wonderful sense of freedom. I was still scared, but was becoming more and more confident by the minute; the salesman had calmed down too and returned to his normal colour!
It was a very nice saloon car, nothing flashy, just an ordinary car. Immediately I realised the first challenge - getting in to the car. It was really difficult as it seemed a long way down to the seat and the door didn't open very wide, so I had to kind of slither in. Getting out was even more difficult, but it was a wonderful feeling - I had my independence back.
In the end I didn't buy that car because I fell in love, and the relationship is rock solid. I fell in love with a Smart Car.
The one in the pictures is my third Smart Car. Don't be fooled; it's not as small as it looks. It's higher than most cars and the doors open really wide - and it's really, really cute. It's far better than an anti-depressant! People smile and wave at me all the time and I've met some wonderful people who start up conversations about my car; especially now I've given this one eyelashes. She was delivered on the 14th February, so she's called Valentina.
Smarts are built by Mercedes-Benz and therefore have all their standard safety features - plus they are economical and environmentally friendly. They run on the smell of a rag dipped in petrol. The tank holds 33 litres and will travel about 500 - 600kms on that! Often people think that such a little thing is only good for travelling around town; and it is, especially for parking - it's as long as a normal car is wide, so sometimes I actually park with the front facing the pavement. When I do that it doesn't impress the parking authorities; but it does amuse all the passersby. On one occasion I was told I "couldn't do that"; so I pointed out that I had done it and hung my disabled disc on the mirror. That was the end of that conversation!
I regularly travel on fairly long journeys and it's an absolute pleasure, she's very nippy and driving at 120 kph is an absolute breeze. A wheelchair fits in the back, it needs to have folding handles and the foot rests need taking off, but the wheelchair fits!
Smarts are "tiptronic" so they don't have a clutch, but can be driven as an automatic or with gears. Another great plus is that, if I am driving out of automatic mode, I can either use the gear lever or the hand controls that come standard on the steering wheel.
I also feel safe in my Smart car. Who would want to steal a Smart? It can't be used as a getaway car, the parts are useless and it's very noticeable. The key slot is between the two seats, so nobody will be snatching those; the doors lock automatically and, because it's higher than most cars, even with the roof down, nobody can get in.
The manufacturers official name for my car is a Smart For two Passion. Quite rightly so, I'm passionately in love with my Smart car. - Sarah Fisher