Time to ban elderly drivers - coroner

JON WELCH A coroner has called on transport secretary Ruth Kelly to consider introducing an upper age limit for drivers after hearing how a 92-year-old Norfolk motorist with one eye died after pulling into the path of an oncoming car.

JON WELCH

A coroner has called on transport secretary Ruth Kelly to consider introducing an upper age limit for drivers after hearing how a 92-year-old Norfolk motorist with one eye died after pulling into the path of an oncoming car.

Norwich coroner William Armstrong also urged the government to consider introducing tougher tests for assessing elderly people's fitness to drive.

He was speaking at an inquest yesterday into the death of George Pyman, of The Plantation, Christchurch Road, Norwich, who was killed on the A140 at Swainsthorpe, near Norwich, on February 10.

Mr Pyman, a widower, was on his way to a weekly lunch date with friends at the Dun Cow pub and had an elderly female passenger in his white Toyota Corolla. The crash happened shortly before midday as he turned into the pub's car park - pulling into the path of a red Vauxhall Zafira.

A police crash expert said the accident was caused by Mr Pyman either failing to see the oncoming car, or failing to appreciate its speed and proximity.

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But his daughter told the inquest how he was “an alert, experienced and sensible driver” and whose doctor had told him he was still fit to drive.

Coroner Mr Armstrong recorded that Mr Pyman had died as a result of a road traffic collision. “It's a tragedy that Mr Pyman's long and active life was brought to an end in such circumstances,” he said.

“Mr Pyman sadly and tragically died as a result of his own driving, but I'm bound to observe the lives of other road users could have been at risk because of his presence on the road.

“I do propose to take up with the authorities, including the secretary of state for transport, whether there is a need to consider three things: firstly, whether more robust and rigorous procedures are needed for assessing the fitness of people over a certain age to drive; whether there should be an upper age limit for driving, just as there is a minimum age limit; and whether medical tests to assess the ability of an aged person to drive should be conducted by medical practitioners appointed by a state agency as opposed to the patient's own GP.”

As the law stands, all drivers must renew their licences at the age of 70 and then every three years. There is no independent verification of ability to drive, unless the DVLA is contacted by relatives of doctors to say the person is no longer fit to drive.

There are more than 1.5m drivers aged 75 or over on Britain's roads, and the proportion of people aged over 70 with a driving licence rose from 15 per cent in 1975 to 47pc in 2004.

At the inquest, Michael Ireson, of Tasburgh, who was driving the Zafira, told how he was driving north to Norwich, and then on to Filby, with his wife Judith and their two daughters when he saw Mr Pyman's car coming in the opposite direction, waiting to turn right.

“I looked in the mirror again to see if there was enough room to let him cross but unfortunately there wasn't and that's when we had the collision,” he said.

“My wife shouted 'look out!' I looked in front of me but had no time to react.”

Anthony Moore, of Tasburgh, who was travelling behind the Ireson family in a Ford Mondeo with his 17-year-old son, said: “I could see an accident coming.

“It didn't look as though the white car was actually slowing down. I was not sure if he was coming into the Dun Cow car park or had swerved by accident. He steered directly into the path of the Vauxhall which had no chance to avoid a collision.”

Ellis Blyth, of Horsham St Faith, who was driving with his wife and three children directly behind Mr Pyman, said: “I started to become concerned because he was not in position to turn right. He was three car lengths short of the car park entrance. It seemed like he was dithering.”

Mr Pyman's daughter Theresa Finney said her father was an alert, experienced and sensible driver who had never had an accident before. He had lost an eye at the age of 19, but had had a sight eye test only nine months before the crash and had been deemed fit to drive.

“His doctor kept telling him if he felt well enough to drive he was able to,” she said.

Police crash investigator PC Nicholas Kett said the accident had been caused by Mr Pyman either failing to see the oncoming car, or failing to appreciate its speed and proximity. “The Vauxhall driver had insufficient time and distance to avoid a collision,” he added.

A post-mortem examination found that Mr Pyman, a retired financial consultant, died of multiple injuries and discovered evidence of heart disease that may also have contributed to his death.

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