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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

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.


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