The family of a young man killed by an elderly driver is calling for political courage to restrict older drivers before more lives are lost.
Sue Jenkins’ 22-year-old son, Dann, was killed while riding a motorbike in northern NSW in October last year.
“[Older drivers] are a growing deadly problem on our roads and there is no will by governments to take any action to make it safer for the general public,” Ms Jenkins told 7.30.
“We are second-class citizens because the independence of the elderly driver is more important than our right to expect other drivers on the roads to be competent.”
‘My soul has just been ripped away’
Edwin Jessop, 87, was driving in the opposite direction and failed to see Dann coming and turned directly into his path.
A crash investigation found Mr Jessop had almost six seconds to see Dann.
Last week in the Lismore Magistrates Court, Mr Jessop was sentenced to nine months in jail and had his licence cancelled for three years after pleading guilty to negligent driving occasioning death.
But Mr Jessop’s sentence was suspended due to his age and he will not serve any time behind bars.
“I just feel my soul has just been ripped away, I don’t even know what to look forward to anymore. I have nothing,” Dann’s father, Gary Jenkins, said.
“We have nothing left, the tank is empty,” Ms Jenkins added.
‘Haunted by this tragedy’
Mr Jessop has been devastated by the accident.
In a letter to the court, he said he was “haunted by this tragedy”.
“Every day, I think about the accident and wonder if I had been just a minute later or a minute earlier, would Mr Jenkins still be alive?” Mr Jessop wrote.
“If we had crossed paths on a different stretch of road or I taken a different route home, would Mr Jenkins still be alive?
“Thoughts like these enter my mind day and night and I know they will always stay with me.”
Not long before the accident, Mr Jessop had been deemed fit to drive.
After the accident, his eyesight was re-tested and it was found he needed glasses.
Elderly drivers involved in 20 per cent of all fatal crashes
The increasing risk elderly drivers pose on our roads presents a dilemma for policy makers and is an area that is bitterly contested.
There are currently more than one million drivers in Australia over the age of 75 and that number is set to skyrocket in the coming years.
New South Wales has the toughest restrictions on elderly drivers, requiring mandatory medical checks from age 75 and driver testing from 85.
But in recent years, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia have all scrapped or reduced testing requirements for older drivers, arguing there wasn’t strong evidence to show it prevented fatal crashes.
The latest national statistics show older drivers are involved in one fifth of all deadly crashes, and that proportion is increasing.
Last year, there were 215 fatal accidents where one driver was over the age of 65, 30 crashes more than in 2008, according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.
Young drivers still the most dangerous cohort
Sue and Gary Jenkins know nothing can bring back their son but they are campaigning for change to keep others safe.
They have started a petition calling for a crackdown on elderly drivers to include assessing how long it takes them to react to an emergency.
They also want increased and better medical checks.
“I want an eyesight test done by an optometrist, not just an eye chart that they read in the doctor’s surgery. And I want the peripheral vision to be tested and I want them to be tested to show they don’t have dementia,” Sue Jenkins said.
NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey told 7.30 the increase in elderly drivers presented an unprecedented challenge, and their contribution to road deaths would continue to rise.
“We’re all getting older, we have that demographic far outstripping the younger generation so it’s a challenge and we’re going to face it more into the future,” she said.
“[The fatal crash rate] is going to increase because, simply, that end of the population is increasing.”
But she said placing more restrictions on older drivers was premature because teenagers continued to be the biggest road safety problem.
“If we were to take the most dangerous cohort off the road we wouldn’t have any younger drivers.”