Driver, 84, banned after fatal crash

AN 84-YEAR-OLD woman has been banned from the road for six months after she admitted driving carelessly when her car hit and killed another pensioner.

Elliot Furniss

AN 84-YEAR-OLD woman has been banned from the road for six months after she admitted driving carelessly when her car hit and killed another pensioner.

“Pillar of the community” Barbara Lea, of Old Road, Frinton, yesterday pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention on March 7 this year when her Toyota Corolla collided with 93-year-old pedestrian Mabel Sawtell.

Mrs Sawtell suffered severe head injuries and died at the scene in Connaught Avenue, Frinton, close to the junction with the Esplanade.

Colchester Magistrates' Court heard that at about 3pm as she travelled along the Esplanade, Lea chose to drive around a stationary car on the wrong side of the road as she turned right into Connaught Avenue.

Prosecutor Nicky Leppard told the court that rather than waiting until the other vehicle had moved, Ms Lea decided to drive around it and on to the wrong side of Connaught Avenue.

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She said: “She (Lea) cut on the inside of the vehicle that was about to turn on to the Esplanade when she ought to have waited for it to go.

“At the time that she made that movement into the road the deceased was crossing the road towards Walton-on-the-Naze so she passed behind the vehicle at the junction and as Lea cut across she caught Mrs Sawtell and knocked her down.”

In her defence, Alex Balancy said Lea had made a decision she regretted and would have to live with.

He said: “She co-operated fully with the police and has entered a guilty plea. Looking back, she would probably have done things differently.”

District Judge David Cooper said it was an “absolutely tragic” event and noted that Ms Lea had been driving for 55 years, held a clean licence and was very remorseful.

Several friends and Frinton residents had written letters to the court to support Lea and the judge noted that she was held in very high regard.

He said: “She's obviously a pillar of the community. Someone's written here to say she has always been the most careful and responsible driver, always ready to help with trips to the hospital and the doctor's surgery.

“I do accept that she has done wonderful work in the community and obviously I want to reflect that as much as I can. Nothing I can say can really console them (Mrs Sawtell's family) as I know only too well.”

As well as the ban, Lea was told she would have to re-take her test in six months time before getting behind the wheel on her own again and was ordered to pay a fine of £250 and £60 in costs.

After the hearing Lea met Mrs Sawtell's son and daughter in law, who were satisfied with the outcome and wished to show there was no ill-feeling towards her.

Statistics show that drivers aged 70 or above are three times more likely to be involved in a road traffic accident than those aged between 45 and 60.

The study was carried out by the Association of British Insurers and a spokesman for the organisation said there needed to be a better and “more objective” assessment of a person's fitness to drive when they reach 70.

He said: “We don't want to get people off the roads, we want to keep drivers driving as long as possible, but we need to identify drivers who are a risk to themselves, other road users and pedestrians.

“We're not setting out the components of any review, but at the moment testing our ability to drive is too much of a subjective judgement.”

The association expects that by 2050 a quarter of all drivers will be 70 or older, compared to just 9% now.

A spokesman for the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) said it could not comment on individual cases, but said there were now more demands on its systems than in the past.

He said: “Increasing car use, changes in the population's health and medical advances all mean that the demands on the health and driver licensing system are very different to those of 30 years ago - when it was established.

“We are considering these issues carefully and intend to consult on how we can improve the service we offer drivers.”