Husband of cyclist killed by epileptic nun calls for tougher licensing of older drivers

No charges so far brought against 79 year old in Australia

by Sarah Barth   June 16, 2013  

Broken bike (CC licensed image by garryknight, www.flickr.com)

The husband of a cyclist killed by an elderly epileptic nun driver has called for tougher regulation of older drivers in Australia.

Daniel and Maria Defino were riding back from visiting Daniel's mother's grave in southeast Sydney when Maria was hit by the nun, named Sister Ann.

Daniel says that police told him she had suffered an epileptic fit, for which she took medication, and had a seizure.

A witness at the scene said the nun could not remember the collision.

"I believe it should be similar to a P-test with an instructor actually out there with a person testing reflex and reaction times," Mr Defino told Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

"It needs to be a thorough test. It's very important as well that they bring in some sort of tie-in with medical records and what medications people are on.

"We're not bullying elderly people, we're just trying to make the road safer for everybody. We just don't want to be in a situation where Maria's death is in vain."

In Australia, drivers aged 75-85 require an annual medical review, and drivers over 85 can select a restricted licence or a bi-annual driving test for an unrestricted one.

Some older drivers pose a risk in the UK too - we reported how an 85-year-old motorist continued to drive for three miles, unaware that he had ploughed through a group of five cyclists, killing one and seriously injuring another. There was another case of an 84 year old driver with defective eyesight who broke a cyclist's back in four places.

And earlier this year, a report commissioned by the RAC Foundation estimated that as many as 50,000 driving licence holders in the UK who turn 70 this year will carry on driving when they are no longer fit to do so. Even more – up to 170,000 – will surrender their licences prematurely.

The report, Driving Choices for the Older Motorist, compiled by the Transport Research Laboratory, also says older motorists need more support when it comes to determining whether they are fit to continue driving, and that the government and medical profession should give more support to people when it comes to making a self-assessment of their fitness to drive.

In 2011, around 6,000 motorists across all age groups had their licences revoked due to defective eyesight. That reflects a continuing upwards trend in recent years, but still equates to only a tiny proportion of motorists, a little over one in 10,000.

With more than 1 million people in the UK over the age of 80 now holding a driving licence, it seems fair to assume that many continue driving when they are no longer able to do so, fearful of the potential isolation and lack of independence they may suffer if they have to give up their car, a theme explored in a 2020 BBC documentary called Taking the Keys Away.

 

14 user comments

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Should be like that here too- some of the most thoughtless maneuvers that I've seen have been from the elderly.

Chiggety check yourself before you wreck yourself

posted by therealsmallboy [85 posts]
16th June 2013 - 8:06

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therealsmallboy wrote:
Should be like that here too- some of the most thoughtless maneuvers that I've seen have been from the elderly.

Really? I find that hard to believe from experience.

Young drivers deliberately driving aggressively / anti socially are the biggest problem on the roads, throw in older more "normal" drivers who think they know it all too.

posted by northstar [1090 posts]
16th June 2013 - 10:22

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I'm not sure why the person is calling for tougher regulation of older drivers either when it was the epilepsy that caused the collision it seems.

I know of a young person who had a collision due to this very reason, age has nothing to do with it.

posted by northstar [1090 posts]
16th June 2013 - 10:23

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Perhaps they ought to Blade Runner style tests.

Unfortunately there is little incentive for the elderly to take these tests. If they pass, then fine, they carry on as normal. If they don't they have their quality of life diminished. The incentive for some is to carry on driving regardless of a valid license. Sadly these people are the most vulnerable, being less able to cycle, run or walk to make up for any immobility. It's sad and an unfortunate truth.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1103 posts]
16th June 2013 - 11:02

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Colin Peyresourde wrote:
Perhaps they ought to Blade Runner style tests.

Unfortunately there is little incentive for the elderly to take these tests. If they pass, then fine, they carry on as normal. If they don't they have their quality of life diminished. The incentive for some is to carry on driving regardless of a valid license. Sadly these people are the most vulnerable, being less able to cycle, run or walk to make up for any immobility. It's sad and an unfortunate truth.

See above.

posted by northstar [1090 posts]
16th June 2013 - 11:50

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The answer to this is to make the doctor liable for not informing the DVLA, if the gp risks being sued they might actually do what they are supposed in the first place.

DevonJohn

posted by solkanofastera [24 posts]
16th June 2013 - 14:29

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solkanofastera wrote:
The answer to this is to make the doctor liable for not informing the DVLA, if the gp risks being sued they might actually do what they are supposed in the first place.

Well there could be a route to take on this, through a civil action, on behalf of the victim in such a crash. A GP, and quite possibly relatives will know that the person is unfit, through medical condition or even through riding as a passenger with the older driver driving.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

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posted by A V Lowe [475 posts]
16th June 2013 - 17:25

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fearful of the potential isolation and lack of independence they may suffer if they have to give up their car,

FML, anyone would think we don't have a public transport system in this country.

Millions of old people use public transport, the rest just have entitlement issues.

The generation who are Facebook addicted will not likely fear isolation when they get old.

posted by kie7077 [441 posts]
17th June 2013 - 9:48

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kie7077 wrote:

FML, anyone would think we don't have a public transport system in this country.
quote]

and in much of the country there isn't a functional public transport system...

One bus a week is hardly functional!!

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posted by mrmo [1054 posts]
17th June 2013 - 14:19

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Just a bit of side info to this - my wife was diagnosed with epilepsy a few years ago although fortunately not the type that generally causes ‘Grand Mal’ seizures, loss of consciousness, control or mental absences. It took nearly a year to get a full diagnosis during which she drove for a while until advised against by a consultant. She was passed from pillar to post until someone recognised the particular symptoms and investigated them properly.

Epilepsy manifests itself in multiple ways and degrees of severity depending on which part of the brain is affected amongst other things however regardless of severity you are required to surrender your driving licence for at least 12 months and your GP / consultant is required to inform the DVLA. If you go on medication to control the seizures and go for 12 months without any recurrence you can apply for your licence back with your Doctor’s validation.

You’ll then need to re-apply for your licence every 5 years after - however there are no checks at this point, you effectively certify yourself– and neither is there anything to stop you stopping or forgetting your own meds at any time. Whether that’s right or not is open to debate but apart from the practicality of administering a more regular and complete check it’s the risk you have for trusting people to be responsible for their own actions.

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posted by joemmo [779 posts]
17th June 2013 - 16:53

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dear oh dear oh dear, bloody nuns who suffer from epilepsy should NOT be on the roads for heaven's sake, especially old ones ...

posted by Karbon Kev [668 posts]
18th June 2013 - 12:28

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joemmo wrote:
it’s the risk you have for trusting people to be responsible for their own actions.

If we trust people to be responsible for their own actions, why do we have a driving test at all?

Nobody should be able to retain a lifetime driving license on the basis of one test: we should not be singling out the elderly here.

In no other walk of life would you be given responsibility for 1 1/2 tonnes of metal operated around substantial numbers of soft squishy people without being regularly re-tested. Because it's a car and not industrial machinery, suddenly people are blind to the dangers.

posted by HKCambridge [121 posts]
18th June 2013 - 14:32

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"make the doctor liable for not informing the DVLA"

YES. That.

Of course, it's not entirely clear to the doctor what the DVLA will do about it. but that's another thing.

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posted by PJ McNally [583 posts]
19th June 2013 - 7:54

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the doctor is already required to inform the DVLA at the time of diagnosis, as is the driver.

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posted by joemmo [779 posts]
19th June 2013 - 15:10

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