A PARALYMPIAN whose life was devastated in a Gwent car crash is backing a police awareness campaign to remind drivers and passengers to wear a seatbelt.

Josie Pearson MBE was fully paralysed from mid-chest downwards in the crash in Goytre near Abergavenny in 2003, in which the driver, her boyfriend, died instantly.

Out of the five people in the car, only the front passenger was wearing a seatbelt, said Miss Pearson, 28.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision [for me] not to put it on, it was a relatively small car and being sat in the back you sort of feel a bit safer,” said the Paralympic gold medallist who went on to compete in wheelchair rugby and athletics after the crash.

“You just don’t think. You’re young, you think you’re indestructible and nothing bad is going to happen to you. But it happens and it happens far too often.”

On the day of the crash, the group of young friends were off to Newport’s Megabowl. Miss Pearson said her boyfriend who was driving was “a bit of a boy racer” and the friends told him to slow down, but what happened next is a blur.

“I’ve been told we were overtaking a lorry and there was a bend at the end of the road,” said Miss Pearson, who has a post box painted gold in her honour in her home town, Hay-on-Wye. “We were going too fast and there were cars travelling in the opposite direction. We clipped the first car which sent us sideways, then we had a head-on collision with the second car.”

Miss Pearson’s boyfriend was killed instantly, while the boy sitting in front of her wearing the seatbelt escaped with broken bones. Miss Pearson broke her neck and wrist while her best friend beside her broke her pelvis and had internal injuries.

Everyone in the other two cars, who were all wearing seatbelts, were unharmed.

“It’s something I have to live with every day,” the Paralympian said of the resulting injuries. “It’s not just affected me, it affects your family, you friends and your community, the NHS and the fire fighters that have to cut roofs off cars.”

For passengers under the age of 16, it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure they are wearing a belt, while for adults it is their own responsibility.

“If someone is not wearing a seatbelt, say ‘this is my car and if you don’t wear a seatbelt get out’,” said Miss Pearson. “It should be second nature before you turn the ignition. It could save lives or prevent injury.”

Chief Inspector Paul Evans told the Argus that last year across Europe 28,000 deaths were related to seatbelts, as well as 1.5 million injuries.

Gwent Police’s seatbelt campaign runs from March 10 to 23 and will combine routine patrols with intelligence from members of the public reporting people who they know regularly drive without a seatbelt.

As well as life-changing accidents, there is a fixed penalty of £100, up to a maximum of £500 for not wearing a seatbelt.