A CUMBRIAN coroner is to investigate the number of mobility scooter deaths across the country after a 99-year-old Kendal woman died after being hit by a van.
Mary Rawes died three months after she was struck by a slow-moving UPS Mercedes Sprinter vehicle as it was exiting a driveway near the Stonecross Manor Hotel on Milnthorpe Road.
A head injury she sustained in the collision and underlying health problems caused her death, a post mortem found.
Now, South and East Cumbria Coroner Ian Smith plans to write to the other 109 coroners in England and Wales to see whether there is a wider problem with the ‘unregulated’ vehicles.
If he finds there is, he will urge the Department for Transport to consider how vulnerable people could be ‘better prepared’ before using them.
Widow Mrs Rawes, who lived on Bellingham Road at the time of the accident, survived the initial collision, on December 20, 2011, and passed away on March 19 last year at Summerhill Nursing Home.
Van driver Michael Nugent, who was making Christmas deliveries, told the inquest: “I was going slowly. Visibility was pretty poor because of the bushes and ‘for sale’ signs.
“I can’t honestly say whether I had stopped or whether I was slowing down at the point of impact.
“I looked left as I approached the junction, and saw traffic coming from the right and, as I looked left again, I felt the bump.”
Police officers reconstructed the sequence of events before the impact as part of the investigation.
PC Kevin Jackson told the Kendal County Hall hearing: “The conclusion was that I either couldn’t see the scooter or it was a very short glimpse of it, and that was with me looking for that and nothing else.”
He explained that the scooter was set to its maximum level - about 4mph - at the time of the accident.
Tests showed that at that speed - and moving slightly downhill - it would have taken the scooter two metres to stop.
PC Jackson said Mrs Rawles was ‘partially sighted or blind’ in her right eye and that a pair of glasses was found in the basket of the scooter.
Collision investigator PC Richard Wiejah said the van’s a-pillar - part of the window frame - would have ‘substantially obscured’ Mr Nugent’s view.
He said that there were points in the events leading to the collision that the scooter would have been both in and out of his vision.
Mrs Rawes’ niece, Anita Bell, her nearest relative, said her aunt lived an independent life on her own.
“She liked to get on, she liked to move,” she told the hearing.
“I was under the impression that she was conscious of other traffic.”
Recording a verdict that Mrs Rawles died from 'a combination of natural causes and an accident', Mr Smith urged mobility scooter users to take ‘extreme care’, pointing out their similarity to cars.
“Mrs Rawes was on a mobility scooter travelling slightly downhill and it seems to me that she did not stop at the point where the van was approaching,” said Mr Smith.
“The scooter was moving at a very low speed indeed and the van was going very slowly as it approached the junction.
“A slow-speed impact did occur and had the effect of tipping the scooter and Mrs Rawes ended up on the ground.
“Mr Nugent was going very slowly indeed. He was approaching carefully and simpy didn’t see Mrs Rawes.
“She survived, as we know, and ended up in Summerhill Nursing Home after being in hospital for some time.
“The immediate cause of her death was bronchopneumonia, underlying heart disease and also the head injury which was showing signs of recovery.
“It’s a tragic end for an elderly, very independent lady.
“This is the third death on mobility scooters that I have dealt with in this relatively small area.
“They are completely different to each other but, none the less, they are dangerous.
“They give vulnerable people enormous independence and can be beneficial, both mentally and physically, but there are consequences and people really do need to be extremely careful on them.
“You can hop on and off with no training or road sense - they are totally unregulated.
“I will compare notes with colleagues up and down the country and see if there really is a bigger problem.
“I want to see if there’s a pattern and, if there is, I will be writing to the Department for Transport.”
Speaking after the inquest, Mrs Bell spoke of her aunt’s zest of life.
She told the Gazette: “She enjoyed life and was really looking forward to the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee but, unfortunately, she didn’t quite make it.”
It is estimated that more than 300,000 people use mobility scooters in the UK.