A coroner has urged elderly motorists to have their fitness to drive tested after a 74-year-old with undiagnosed dementia caused a crash that killed a baby.
Simon Milburn, a coroner from Cambridge, plans to write to the Department for Transport with his concerns after a five-month-old boy, Louis Thorold, died in his pram when then 73-year-old Shelagh Robertson, veered into the path of a van, forcing it onto the pavement where it hit the baby and his mother.
Ms Robertson was driving her Mazda after a shopping trip to Tesco when she caused the crash on the A10 at Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire on January 22, 2021.
An inquest in Huntingdon was told that the van driver, who was driving within the 50mph limit, had no time to react.
Ms Robertson was prosecuted for causing the death by careless driving, but after a trial at Cambridge Crown Court last year, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The jurors in the case were informed that the pensioner was suffering from dementia, which was undiagnosed at the time.
By law, motorists aged 70 or over are required to renew their driving licence every three years. Ms Robertson renewed hers in May 2017 as she approached her 70th birthday, an inquest was told on Wednesday.
This was completed online, and she stated in her application that she was medically fit to drive.
Robertson’s three-year licence was extended by a year due to the Covid pandemic. This meant that the expiration date was June 2021, after the crash.
Cambridgeshire area Coroner, Mr Milburn, said: “The obvious way around that is for someone to design a process where there’s a formal examination at an appointed time.”
To renew their licence at age 70, Mr Dollard said that the current system requires drivers to answer 21 medical questions with yes or no answers.
He goes on to say that if Ms 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.”
Mr Milburn added: “How practical and whether there are resources to put such a system in place is not for me.”
Sergeant Mark Dollard, of Cambridgeshire Police, 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.”
Chris Thorold, Louis’s father, stated that 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.”
Rachael struggled to get pregnant for five years leading up to baby Louis being born through IVF.
Having sustained numerous traumatic injuries, Mr Milburn concluded Louis died as the result of a road traffic collision.
He also plans on writing to Cambridgeshire County Council to request the speed limit at the crash site to be lowered to 30mph and for safety barriers to be installed.