Tragic family's road safety plea

Rob GarrattA couple who lost their two teenage daughters in a horrific road crash are leading a campaign pleading with drivers not to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol.Rob Garratt

A couple who lost their two teenage daughters in a horrific road crash are leading a campaign pleading with drivers not to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol.

Claire Stoddart, 18, and her sister Jenny , 15, were among five people who died following a head on collision between two cars.

The girls were driving back to their Lowestoft home on July 1, 2006 after a Red Hot Chili Peppers gig in Ipswich when another car hit them head-on.

The second car was being driven on the wrong side of the road by a 23-year-old army corporal who had drunk more than eight pints of lager.

The crash, on the A12 near Blythburgh in Suffolk, also claimed the lives of their schoolfriend at Benjamin Britten High School, Carla Took, as well as two people in the other car.

Now three years on parents Phil and Heather have spoken out in support of a campaign urging people to stay entirely drink or drug free before taking to the road.

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'Not a drop, not a drag' is the slogan being promoted by charity Brake, as part of Road Safety Week, in a bid to cut the 880 lives that are lost every year due to people driving under the influence of drink and drugs.

Mr Stoddart, 46, a teacher at Lowestoft's The Denes High School, said: 'The crash has changed our whole lives. It was a massive thing and we will never feel the same again.

'The first year after the crash was grim - we found it difficult to cope with normal life. Now for me, at times, life still feels empty and it can be hard not to give in to depression.

'We feel sorry for people who drink drive without knowledge of the consequences of their actions - and the possible consequences.

'We see a lots of teenagers and people in their early twenties having a good time, and some people just don't think about what they're doing and how it could effect the rest of their lives. People don't realise but drink drivers have a trauma that will go on for years and years and hound them. Their lives will be tainted.'

The couple live in north Lowestoft and also have daughter Amy, 16, and Tom, 8.

Since the crash Mr Stoddart has written a book dealing with his loss, entitled A12 to Heaven, and has spoke to more than 1,000 people in a series of talks across Norfolk and Suffolk.

Mrs Stoddart, 50, a teacher at Woods Loke Primary School, Lowestoft, added: 'The first few months were just a blur, a dream. 'Claire had just finished her A-levels and got a place at university in Nottingham, she had her whole life ahead of her.'

Brake's campaign was launched yesterday with an event at the University of East Anglia's Blue Bar in a bid to hammer the message home to students.

It was timed to coincide with the release of findings from a survey looking at the habits of young drivers in the region.

One in eight 17 to 25-year-olds in the East of England admitted to driving after having a drink, while 3pc admitted driving after taking drugs. 26pc of young people admitted being a passenger to a driver who had drunk or taken drugs. Overall, 76pc of all young drivers who admitted to driving after drink and drugs were female.

Britain currently has one of the highest legal drink drive rates in Europe, at 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, a figure Brake is campaigning the government to lower.