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Woman left paralysed by collision urges older drivers to consider if they can still drive safely

A woman who has been left paralysed by a dangerous driver has urged older people to consider whether they can still drive safely.

Posted on 01 July 2021

Dawn Walters, 50, of Worcestershire, was struck by a reversing car when she stopped for tea with her friend at Broomfields of Holt Orchards and Farm Shop, in Holt Heath, on 31 August 2020. She was walking with her electric bike in the orchard near the coffee shop trying to find a table to sit with her friend when a car began reversing out of control. The car struck some tables and knocked over other people before it then continued to strike some trees and cause Ms Walters catastrophic injuries.

The driver of the car, Pauline Haynes, 87, pleaded guilty to two counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving and has been sentenced today at Birmingham Crown Court to two years’ imprisonment suspended for two years on each count and 10 years (considered to be life) ban on driving.

In considering the appropriate sentence, HHJ Hirst looked at the role of the phenomenon of ‘sudden unintended acceleration’ (SUA), an unintended, unexpected, uncontrolled acceleration of a vehicle, often caused by driver error and pedal misapplication and noted that this is common with elderly drivers.

Ms Walters’ life has been changed completely by the collision and she is now unable to do many of the things she loved including gardening, cooking, travelling, leading a local Duke of Edinburgh group, attending the local theatre and church and socialising with friends. She has been unable to return to her beloved job as a Chemistry Teacher due to the loss of dexterity which makes performing complex experiments impossible.

Ms Walters said following the sentencing:

“My life has been completely devastated by what happened and it will never be the same again. My family are having to leave our home which we have lived in for over 20 years because it is no longer accessible to me. My career has been ended and my social life is now very difficult.

“I strongly believe that older people should consider whether they are capable of driving. The driver who hit me never tried to stop, she was totally out of control, and acted negligently by choosing to drive. To me this is comparable to drink driving – because older people who are no longer able to drive safely are choosing to risk other lives for personal convenience. To my mind, the fact that she was confused by which pedal to use and panicked, which is apparently common amongst elderly drivers, is no excuse; age should not be considered a mitigating factor, when it was clearly the cause. My life has been ruined because the driver didn’t recognise her inability to act in a safe manner when in charge of a lethal weapon. This has got to change.”

Bethany Sanders, who represents Ms Walters in her civil claim, said:

“This incident was a tragedy where my client and her whole family had their lives shattered as a result of the defendant’s dangerous driving. Drivers should ensure that they are competent and able to drive their vehicles safely before getting behind the wheel. These incidents are avoidable if people appreciate the responsibility that they have on the roads and make the necessary decision to cease driving when no longer fit to do so.”

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