AN elderly West Cork motorist who seriously injured a woman who was out cycling, and drove on without realising that he had hit her, led a judge to highlight the growing problem of elderly drivers being certified to drive.
Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin said it was questionable whether elderly farmer, Denis O’Driscoll (84), should have been driving at all ,even though he had been certified to do so when he collided with cyclist, Olivia Walsh (40), on the main Bandon to Clonakilty Road on June 2nd 2016.
O’Driscoll from Cashelmore, Bandon, pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court this week to careless driving causing serious bodily harm to Ms Walsh at Tullig, Ballinascarthy, on the day in question contrary to Section 52 of the Road Traffic Act.
Insp Fergal Foley told the court that O’Driscoll believed that a fly had got into his eye, causing a momentary lapse in his concentration as he drove along the road around 10.30am on the day in question and he didn’t realise that he had hit anyone.
It was only when O’Driscoll got home and his son saw the damage to his car that he became aware of the collision and his son drove back along his route and came across the crash scene and brought gardai home to interview his father who co-operated fully with their investigation, he said.
Insp Foley said O’Driscoll was active in his local community as a member of the IFA, Bandon Show and Ballinascarthy GAA, and he had an unblemished record and had never come to the attention of gardaí until this collision.
The court heard that Ms Walsh suffered serious injuries as a result of the collision and was in an induced coma for two weeks.
She had spent a month in hospital and is still striving to recover from her injuries, but she expressed a wish that O’Driscoll would not be jailed for his offence.
Defence counsel, Dermot Sheehan SC said of his client: ‘He wishes to apologise. He has not driven since this event. He is farming all his life. He will not drive again. He has had 65 years of driving without any previous complaint.’
Judge Ó Donnabháin noted head injuries such as those suffered by Ms Walsh were very significant and the collision had a significant effect on her life in terms of her work and her sporting life, but she was very focussed on getting better.
He noted O’Driscoll’s co-operation with gardaí and his early plea, while he also noted that there were no aggravating factors such as drink or speed involved.
But he said that it was a cause of concern to him that O’Driscoll could hit someone and not realise it. ‘Given his age, it’s questionable whether he should have been driving – I don’t care whether he was certified to drive,’ said Judge Ó Donnabháin, adding that the problem of elderly motorists being involved in accidents was becoming more common.
He said that he was aware that taking elderly people off the road made them ‘virtual prisoners’ in their homes but the issue of elderly people continuing to drive was ‘more a societal problem than one I can deal with today, but it is a problem that will increase in the future’.
He said that he didn’t believe there were any grounds for imposing a custodial sentence, given the absence of aggravating factors, and he sentenced O’Driscoll to 12 months in jail but suspended it in its entirety. He disqualified him from driving for 10 years.