A couple of cases of “accidental death”

The use of the “accidental death” verdict has been campaigned on by our friends in RoadPeace . Let’s look at two recent cases:

A man who used to chauffeur the stars of Carry-On films around Pinewood Studios died after being involved in a head-on crash while driving on the wrong side of the road near Poitiers, France. Douglas Lewis, 75, and his wide Pamela, 77, of Slough, Berkshire, were returning from their Spanish villa when they crashed into an oncoming van at 50 mph last April. Mrs Lewis was killed instantly, while Mr Lewis died three months later from his injuries. The Windsor Coroner returned a verdict of accidental death”. (The Times, 2nd February , 2013)

Of course, it may not be the case that the former professional driver was actually on the wrong side of the road – this report may be wrong. In fact, according to the only other report of this case I can find, the only issue worth reporting on was the difficulties the family had in repatriating the injured driver. In this report there is no mention of the head-on crash resulting from Mr lewis driving on the wrong side of the road.  If he was not driving on the wrong side of the road, I give my apologies to the memory of the driver and his family for suggesting otherwise.

However, if it was the case that, like other drivers who proceed down the wrong side of the road, this “accident” resulted from breaking one of the fundamental laws relating to driving, I would suggest that this was not just an “accident”. In such a case, indeed, a verdict of “death by misadventure “would be appropriate, and even “unlawful killing” for the death of Mrs Lewis.

At the very least, the Coroner could have cautioned the public about the risks posed to others (what about the van driver?) of elderly motorists driving on the Continent. Even if – or perhaps particularly if – they have been professional rivers with the inevitable sense of proficiency such employment brings.

After all, this Coroner, Mr Peter Bedford, is not above making comments where elderly road users die. Two years ago he commented on the case where an elderly cyclist had been hit by three cars (another “accidental death”) in ways which not only avoided remarking on the apparent careless driving of the motorist(s) involved – see the comments on the account here – but suggested that , although “Whether it would have changed the outcome I cannot say”, you guessed it – the cyclist should have been wearing a helmet.

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By coincidence, while writing this post, RDR supporter Mike Chalkley sends a copy of a letter he sends to the Bournemouth Echo in response to their report of another “accidental death” verdict

While the death of 77 year-old Margaret Howells under the wheels of a 40 ton articulated lorry while she tried to cross Wimborne Rd in Winton last year was horrific enough, the responses by the coroner and investigating officer are nothing short of obscene.

Mr Payne (coroner) said “it was just one of those sad things that can happen”. PC Beard (investigator) said “pedestrians should not cross in front of vehicles with their engines running”.

The fact is, people WILL cross the road outside of the crossings. Indeed, it is not actually against the law to do so. Quoting the Highway Code will not prevent this. Winton is a thriving shopping centre with a huge amount of footfall. Many shoppers are elderly, young or foreign and will not have read the code or the article in this paper. As for the rest of us, why should we have our lives as pedestrians further hindered? Soon we will all be expected to wear helmets and hi-viz.

Why do we allow such dangerous vehicles on this stretch of road during shopping hours? Why do we continue to allow this road to be used by arterial traffic when Boundary Lane and Talbot Avenue are so close by? What should be a pleasant local centre is a mass of congestion, pollution and collision risk.

And why, once again, do we jump at placing responsibility for avoiding accidents on vulnerable victims, not those presenting the danger? The relentless shifting of responsibility away from those endangering others becomes part of the problem.”

I would add comment on the expectation that a 77 year-old is supposed to walk 100 yards to cross the road properly (and presumably another 100 yards back on the other side of the road).

Also the “blind spot” question of a lorry driver not being able to see a pedestrian I front of him which has been campaigned on for years by RoadPeace and now See Me Save Me . In particular, see the comments by a lorry driver on the report in the Bournemouth Echo.

Did the Coroner refer to this issue in this case?

 

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