A five-month-old baby died after being struck by a car that was forced onto the pavement as it tried to avoid an on-coming van.
The car – driving by Shelagh Robertson – turned into the path of the van on the A10 Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire on 22 January 2021. The van driver, who was travelling within the 50mph speed limit, had no chance to react, an inquest in Huntingdon heard.
Roberton, 73 at the time, was driving her Mazda home from a shopping trip at Tesco. She was prosecuted for causing death by careless driving but found not guilty by reason of insanity following a trial at Cambridge Crown Court last year.
Jurors were told Robertson was suffering from dementia, which was undiagnosed at the time.
A coroner has now raised concerns about older drivers renewing their licences by self-declaring as fit and able to drive. Motorists aged 70 or over are required by law to renew their driving licence every three years, with Robertson renewing hers in May 2017 as she approached her 70th birthday, an inquest was told on Wednesday.
This was done by an online application in which she said she was medically fit to drive. Because of the Covid pandemic, Robertson’s three-year licence was extended by a year, giving it an expiration date of June 2021 – after the crash.
Sergeant Mark Dollard, of Cambridgeshire Constabulary, told the inquest: “The process for renewing your licence is entirely reliant on honesty and awareness. If you don’t have either of them, there’s a flaw that can be exploited.
Simon Milburn, Cambridgeshire area coroner, said: “The obvious way around that is for someone to design a process where there’s a formal examination at an appointed time.”
Mr Dollard said the current system requires drivers to answer 21 medical questions, with yes or no answers, to renew their licence at age 70.
He said if Robertson had been “checked by a doctor and the doctor had identified there was the onset of dementia, then (she) may well have not had (her) licence renewed and we wouldn’t have had an incident like we had in 2021”.
The coroner said he will write to the Department for Transport with his concerns. He added: “How practical and whether there are resources to put such a system in place is not for me.”
Louis’s father Chris Thorold said there is a “gaping hole in the system – that you can self-certify”.
“Quite a lot of European countries have these rules in place that require medical examinations,” he said.
In a statement read to the inquest, Rachael Thorold, Louis’s mother, said: “Our cognitive health and reaction time changes with time and this needs to be objectively checked. Mrs Robertson hadn’t picked up her significant cognitive decline.”
Mr Milburn concluded Louis died as the result of a road traffic collision, having sustained multiple traumatic injuries.
He said he will also write to Cambridgeshire County Council to ask if the speed limit at the crash site, which has already been lowered from 50mph to 40mph, could be further lowered to 30mph and if safety barriers can be installed.