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Novice driver's hard shoulder overtake on Irish road among 'worst' driving judge has seen

Teen handed suspended sentence, banned for two years and has to retake test

A judge said dramatic dashcam footage of the moment a novice driver swerved her car on to the hard shoulder on the opposite side of the road without stopping to avoid colliding with an oncoming lorry during an overtake in the morning rush hour, was amongst the "worst" driving he has seen.

District Judge Liam McNally was speaking at Limavady Magistrates' Court in Co Derry on Wednesday where he imposed a four months jail sentence suspended for two years, on 18-year-old Coleraine woman Jessica Stirling.

Stirling, of Grasmere Court, previously pleaded guilty to dangerous driving.

She has also been banned from driving for two years and has to re-sit her driving test before returning to the road.

Footage of the incident on the road between Coleraine and Limavady on a winter's morning earlier this year has been viewed more than 300,000 times on social media.

It showed Stirling's car overtaking the dashcam vehicle in dull wet conditions and after attempting to continue to pass another vehicle the defendant's car is confronted with an oncoming lorry.

Rather than pull back into the left hand lane she swerved on to the hard shoulder on the opposite side of the road and continued driving on the hard shoulder over the brow of a hill passing three more vehicles until she returned to the correct side of the road.

After watching the footage in Limavady Magistrates Court, Judge McNally told Stirling that it was "one of the worst bits of driving" he had ever seen.

Stirling’s solicitor Denise Gillan described her client's driving on the date in question as "awful", adding that she "couldn't even attempt to make excuses for it" but could only put it down to "inexperience".

The solicitor said that Stirling, who the court heard has plans to study paediatric nursing, was driving at approximately 40mph on the date in question.

She said when her client overtook the vehicles and met an incoming vehicle she "panicked" and moved onto the hard shoulder.

"I don't think there was any question of showing off. It was a lack of judgement. She made the wrong decision," said the solicitor.

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"It was only afterwards that she realised the dangers she put herself and her passengers in."

Stirling, who was accompanied in court by her parents, was described by Ms Gillan as "a hardworking and talented young girl".

The solicitor said Stirling's mother had instructed her that "she was a good girl who never gave her mother or father a day of trouble in her life".

She added that Stirling had described the incident as "the biggest mistake in her life".

Addressing Stirling during sentencing, Judge McNally told her that she "escaped an inevitably fatal collision" on what he described as "probably one of the busiest roads in Northern Ireland".

He told her that her driving on the date in question merited a custodial sentence however he said he had to take into account her previous clear record and guilty plea.

"On the other side of the coin, the difficulty I have is the fact that you are a young girl who is just about to embark on your career. Your references speak highly of you and I understand you are anticipating good grades in your exams.

“If I had decided this was a joyriding type exercise where you had no disregard for anyone else on the road I would have imposed an immediate custodial sentence.

“You made a mistake when overtaking.  You were very fortunate to escape without injuring yourself or anyone else,” he added.

Judge McNally handed down a four month custodial sentence, which he suspended for two years and disqualified Stirling from driving for two years.

Judge McNally told Stirling that she would have to take an extended driving test to "ensure the public are safe" before she goes back on the road again.

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