Parents urge tighter controls on driving licences

The parents of a little boy killed in a hit-and-run accident have called for tighter driving licence controls after it emerged a brain-damaged motorist had his licence renewed without having to resit a driving test.

Stephen and Josephine O’Donovan, from Ballymacoda, Co Cork, pleaded for changes after an inquest yesterday into the death of their only child Luke, aged six, outside their home just over three years ago.

Luke was struck by a Ford Focus as he crossed the road in a 50km/h zone outside his home on April 16, 2014. He died in Cork University Hospital two days later from head injuries. The car had been driven by then 48-year-old Edmond Walsh, of Ballyherode, Ballymacoda,

Cork City Coroner’s Court was told Mr Walsh suffered traumatic brain injuries in the 1980s and in 2006, which left him with severe physical and mental impairments and on 18 tablets a day. However, he was deemed medically fit to drive his specially-adapted car before his licence was renewed in 2010.

Sgt Fergus Twomey said it was issued with two qualifications, that he drive a suitably adapted car and his licence be renewed subject to an appropriate medical report.

Solicitor Ken Murray told the inquest Mr Walsh had been deemed medically fit to drive.

Coroner Philip Comyn was told that Road Safety Authority (RSA) guidelines advise motorists, their families, and GPs to alert the licensing authorities about any impairments that may affect their ability to drive.

Luke’s parents said the system failed in their case and they believe people who suffer such traumatic brain injuries should be required to resit the driving test.

“Because you are different, through no fault of your own, but you are different once you have a brain injury or physical injury. You do change,” Mr O’Donovan said. “Something failed somewhere down the line and we dealt with a driver who obviously wasn’t capable of driving responsibly or of being responsible for their actions like the rest of us are, when we get behind the wheel.”

Collision investigator Garda Ray Sweeney said skidmarks showed Mr Walsh braked and lost 46km/h in speed before the impact, and had reacted with 2.2-seconds — as fast as 85% of drivers. But Mr Walsh, whose brain injuries had left him with physical and cognitive impairments, left the scene.

Gardaí used a shattered registration plate found at the scene to trace the driver to his home within an hour.

Mr Walsh had told gardaí: “He [Luke] ran out so fast, there was nothing I could do. I put the brakes on immediately I saw him.”

In subsequent court proceedings, he pleaded guilty and received a suspended jail sentence and a 10-year driving ban, but vowed never to drive again.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and recommended Luke’s case be highlighted with the RSA, the National Driver Licence Service, Insurance Ireland, and the Irish Medical Organisation. The O’Donovans said they also hope Transport Minister Shane Ross will take note.

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