Opticians must inform DVLA if drivers fail eye tests, says family of three-year-old crash victim

Poppy-Arabella Clarke's family demand law change to make medical professionals inform authorities of conditions making people unfit to drive 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 22 May 2018 00:10
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Poppy-Arabella Clarke, three, was run over and killed by a pensioner who was told his eyesight was too poor to drive
Poppy-Arabella Clarke, three, was run over and killed by a pensioner who was told his eyesight was too poor to drive

The parents of a three-year-old girl who was run over by a pensioner with poor eyesight are calling for a change in the law to stop more “unnecessary and pointless deaths”.

Poppy-Arabella Clarke was walking over a pedestrian crossing with her mother when 72-year-old John Place went through a red light and killed her in July 2016.

He told police he had not seen the traffic lights or crossing, having been told by two optometrists that even with glasses his eyesight fell below the DVLA’s standards.

Poppy’s parents are now calling for opticians, doctors and other medical professionals to be legally required to report drivers who are unfit to be behind the wheel.

Poppy-Arabella’s mother, Rachel Clarke, who suffered a broken pelvis in the incident, said it has taken more than a year since Place was jailed to gather the strength to launch the campaign.

“It is crucial that the government creates a law to put the responsibility on medical professionals to report drivers who cannot see well enough, or have other medical issues that deem them unfit to drive, to the DVLA,” she added. “It is only by doing this that such a terrible tragedy can be prevented from happening again.

Poppy-Arabella’s father, Phil Clarke, said Place was able to kill his daughter despite failing an eye test and being told he was unfit to drive.

Poppy-Arabella Clarke, three, and her mother Rachel were run over by a pensioner who was told his eyesight was too poor to drive

“This has left our family devastated and heartbroken for the rest of our lives,” he added.

“If this law had been passed when the optometrists knew Place was unfit to drive his car, they would have had a legal obligation to inform the DVLA. Then perhaps Poppy-Arabella would still be here with us today and Rachel would not have suffered such terrible injuries.”

Place was jailed for four years at Birmingham Court for causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving.

“Poppy-Arabella left her home on the day happy and excited to see her friends at nursery – she never got there,” Ms Clarke said.

A survey of more 2,000 people by legal firm Slater and Gordon found that 82 per cent of respondents said medical professionals should legally have to report drivers who are unfit to get behind the wheel.

Almost a quarter did not know that no requirement was currently in place, and one in seven knew someone who should not be on the road for medical reasons.

Over a third said they had taken action themselves to prevent loved ones from driving, such as carrying out chores or hiding their keys.

More than eight in 10 believe that everyone should have an obligatory eye test at the age of 70 and a third said motorists should retake their driving test at the same age.

A further 84 per cent of respondents said all motorists should have regular examinations and four in 10 felt the current eye test of being able to read a number plate from 67ft (20m) is insufficient and should be updated.

“It is our hope that with the results of the survey and support of the public, this campaign will create the necessary law to protect lives and prevent tragedy,” Ms Clarke said.

Richard Langton, a specialist serious injury lawyer from Slater and Gordon, said he had seen tragic cases like the death of Poppy-Arabella time and again.

“This deadly legal loophole, where medical professionals are not obliged to tell the DVLA about motorists who are unsafe to drive, but also feel they are unable to because of patient confidentiality, simply has to be closed to prevent more unnecessary and pointless deaths,” he added.

“We call on the government to listen to what happened to Poppy-Arabella, take note of our research and what the public has had to say, and introduce a law that would save many lives.”

The General Optical Council said its standards already make clear that registrants should promptly raise concerns about their patients if their safety or that of the public might be at risk.

“Any breaches of our standards can lead to disciplinary action,” a spokesperson added.

“Some registrants and members of the public have requested more clarity about how to implement these standards in practice where a patient might be unfit to drive due to their eyesight. We are currently considering if further guidance is required and what form it might take.”

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