Niki Smith had been enjoying a night out with her sister in 1997 when she unknowningly accepted a lift from someone who had been drinking.
The vehicle was involved in a collision and Niki was left paralysed after breaking her neck. Her sister broke her collarbone and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now, 24 years later, Niki is urging people to take care this festive period and reminding drivers that drink-driving can have devastating consequences.
The 48-year-old has thrown her support behind this year’s drink and drug driving campaign, which was launched by the Scottish Government and Police Scotland on Wednesday.
Recalling the day of the collision, Niki said: “It was a Friday evening and my sister and I were having a great night out. I enjoyed letting my hair down in between working as a carer and being a busy mum.
“We accepted a lift from someone we knew, although we had no idea he’d been drinking. It was a small decision that changed my life irreversibly.
“It must have been heart-breaking for my family and partner to be told I’d broken my neck and was paralysed. My sister, who was in the car with me, broke her collarbone and was later diagnosed with PTSD. I’m glad it was me, as I would have struggled to accept her having my injury.”
Niki, from Aberdeenshire, got involved with Spinal Injuries Scotland last summer and became a peer support volunteer. She says their workers have inspired her to come forward and share her story in the hope of raising awareness of the dangers involved in driving while under the influence.
“There has definitely been years of stress, physical pain and frustration for me and everybody involved in my life,” she said.
“I have now found ways to enjoy special moments and not just sit at home and dwell on the difficult times. I’ve had to become a more confident person so people see me and not just the wheelchair. If I hadn’t had my kids I don’t think I’d be the person I am today.
“I hope that by sharing my own experience I can help raise awareness of the devastating consequences drink-driving can have on so many lives. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through the same as me and my family.”
Police Scotland and transport minister Graeme Day launched this year’s festive enforcement campaign to tackle drink and drug-driving on Wednesday, highlighting the criminal and personal consequences of being found guilty of driving under the influence.
With Christmas parties returning this year, the festive enforcement campaign warns motorists of a zero-tolerance approach to drink and drug-driving.
In the last two months, 852 roadside drug tests have been carried out across Scotland, resulting in 395 positive tests.
Dey said: “The consequences of drink and drug-driving can be devastating and those found guilty of breaking the law could face a criminal record, a large fine, and up to six months in prison.
“Driving while under the influence puts not only the driver, but passengers and other road users at risk of serious injury, or even worse. Our message is clear, if you’re having a drink, leave the car at home and if you’re driving, the best approach is none.”
More than 20,000 drivers are stopped by the police in Scotland every month. On average, specialist road officers encounter 40-50 motorists a week who have taken drugs.
Drivers who provide a positive roadside drug test are arrested and taken to a police station where a blood sample is obtained and sent for further analysis. In the same time period, 600 drivers were arrested for drink-driving related offences.
The campaign draws attention to the significant consequences – criminal as well as personal – of being found guilty of driving while under the influence of alcohol or with drugs in your system.
Chief superintendent Louise Blakelock, Police Scotland’s Head of Road Policing said: “We want everyone to enjoy this festive season for all the right reasons and so we are urging motorists to help us keep the roads safe for all.
“We continue to see motorists put others at considerable risk by driving under the influence of alcohol or after taking drugs, despite repeated warnings about the dangers of drink or drug driving.
“As we approach the festive season, our officers will be focused on targeting drivers who recklessly put others at risk by driving after consuming alcohol or drugs.
“Driving under the influence reduces reaction times and continues to be a factor in serious and fatal collisions. The fact you could kill or injure yourself or another member of the public should be reason enough not to risk it.”