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Jail for motorist, 84, who killed cyclist after being told not to drive due to failing eyesight

John Johnstone had twice been told to give up licence in months before crash near Aviemore that claimed Hanno Garbe's life...

An 84-year-old motorist who killed a cyclist after he continued to drive despite twice being told to surrender his driving licence due to his failing eyesight has been jailed for 32 months.

Sentencing John Johnstone at the High Court in Edinburgh, Lord Fairlie said that only a custodial sentence was suitable, reports BBC News Scotland.

Johnstone, from Kingussie, last month admitted causing the death by dangerous driving of 57-year-old Hanno Garbe near Aviemore in March last year.

The judge, who banned Johnstone from driving for five years and four months, told him that had he not pleaded guilty and been convicted by a jury, he would have been sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.

He added: “You continued to drive a motor car when it was plainly dangerous for you to do so.”

Speaking in mitigation on behalf of Johnstone, defence solicitor-advocate Marco Guarino said: "It is difficult to underestimate how hard it has been for him to come to terms with what has happened. It has had a profound effect upon him.

“He has indicated to me that he wishes to apologise most profoundly to Mr Garbe's widow and his extended family.”

He said that his client had passed his driving test in 1958 and head no prior convictions and unsuccessfully sought to convince the judge that it was a “very unique case” and that a custodial sentence should not be handed down.

“He has not driven since, his licence has been revoked and there is no prospect of him ever driving again,” he said.

However, the judge insisted that only a prison sentence was appropriate given that Johnstone had twice been told not to drive due to the deterioration in his vision.

Mr Garbe, who worked as a sales manager and had moved from Germany to the Aviemore area with his wife Dagmar in 2007, died of head injuries at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

Following the crash on the B9152 near Loch Alvie, a roadside eye test carried out by police found that the driver was only able to read a registration plate from a distance of 4.8 metres, instead of the 20 metres required by law.

Johnstone, who said that he had not seen the cyclist, had previously been told by optometrist Ellen Torrance during an annual eye examination at Specsavers in Inverness in October 2018 not to drive because he had cataracts in both eyes.

At his trial last month, advocate depute Alex Prentice QC told the High Court: “The accused was aware that he could not drive until after a successful cataract operation. As at March 4 in 2019 he had not had the operation.”

“He stated he was struggling with watching television, following the ball when playing golf and also driving.”

“At the conclusion of the eye examination Ellen Torrance told the accused that he had a big drop in his distance vision and a cataract in his right and left eyes.”

“She concluded the accused did not meet the driving standards and told the accused he could not lawfully drive, must not drive and must notify DVLA of his condition.”

Two months later, he attended an eye clinic at Raigmore Hospital, which reached the same conclusion.  

As in England & Wales, while medical professionals such as GPs in Scotland can advise someone to surrender their driving licence to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency as a result of health conditions including poor eyesight, they cannot compel them to do so.

In its webpage entitled Surrendering your driving licence, the government says:

There’s no legal age at which you must stop driving. You can decide when to stop, but medical conditions can affect your driving and might mean you have to give up your driving licence until you can meet the medical standards of fitness to drive again.

When you decide to stop driving or are advised by your doctor to stop you’ll need to tell DVLA and send them your licence.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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