A sheriff has ruled that stricter checks on elderly motorists would not have prevented the death of a cyclist knocked down by a 93-year-old woman, reports the Herald Scotland. Alice Ross suffered a suspected blackout while at the wheel in 2011, killing 30-year-old Elaine Dunne. Following a fatal accident inquiry (FAI), Sheriff Andrew Berry said a stricter licensing regime would not have prevented Dunne’s death.
Elaine and Christopher Dunne were standing with their bikes while on a cycling holiday in Scotland, celebrating their wedding anniversary, when they were hit by Ross’s car. While Christopher was injured, Elaine was killed. Charges of causing death by dangerous driving were dropped after prosecutors accepted Ross’s defence that her blackouts were due to an underlying medical condition.
Last year, in submitting evidence to the FAI at Wick Sheriff Court, procurator-fiscal Alasdair MacDonald said that people in their 80s and beyond should have to undergo regular check-ups on their health.
MacDonald believes that older drivers should be required to renew their driving licence every two years and produce a statement corroborated by a suitably responsible person certifying the person’s fitness to drive.
However, Sheriff Berry concluded that there was nothing to indicate Ross should not have been driving at the time. Her medical notes had reported "dizziness" and "consciousness disturbance" in 1955 and 1981, but nothing from then up to the time of the crash in September 2011.
"There is nothing in the facts of this matter that would allow me to conclude that if Mrs Ross had been required, in terms of being say over the age of 80, to renew her licence to drive every two years, as opposed to every three years, that this would have prevented the accident.
"For the avoidance of any doubt the facts and circumstances of this tragedy bear no comparison whatever with a situation such as where an individual might, having suffered repeated ill health failed, in defiance of common sense, to seek medical advice; or failed to desist from driving pending medical advice."
Ross had no memory of the incident which took place on the A99 between John O'Groats and Wick and surrendered her licence afterwards.
Currently, when holders of driving licences hit their 70th birthday, and every three years thereafter, they are required to complete a declaration stating whether or not they are fit to keep on driving.
A 2013 report produced by the RAC Foundation estimated that as many as 50,000 driving licence holders in the UK who turned 70 that year would carry on driving when they were no longer fit to do so, while an even greater number – 170,000 – would surrender their licences prematurely.
Speaking at the time, Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:
“All drivers should regularly consider their fitness to drive, but matters really come to a head when we reach 70 and have to declare that we are fit to be on the roads. In general older drivers have an enviable safety record but it is clear that faced with this critical yes or no decision many motorists simply do not have a realistic view of their capabilities.
“While this will mean there are drivers who are unfit to be on the roads there will be many others who have prematurely hung up their keys. This will have a huge impact on their ability to live an active life, access essential services and take part in social activities.”
The RAC Foundation does not support compulsory retesting at a certain age. It would prefer to see an ongoing dialogue with motorists and encouragement from officials and the medical profession to regularly consider driving ability, regardless of age.
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