Vision requirement for driving discussed
Henry York Carter had his appeal
against conviction dismissed, but he
won a partial concession on his sentence for causing death by reckless driving.
The Court of Appeal last Friday
upheld his three-year term of imprisonment, but ordered a ban on driving for 15
years instead of the disqualification for life he had received.
That sentence was imposed in February
2009 after a Grand Court
jury found Carter guilty of causing the death of Glen “Papa Sleepy” Seymour. Mr. Seymour was
walking at night in Bodden
Town when he was struck
by the van Carter was driving (Caymanian Compass, 4 March 2009).
Attorney Clyde Allen then argued
against the additional penalty imposed – Carter had been prohibited from
holding or obtaining a drivers licence for the rest of his life.
The Traffic Law requires a minimum
disqualification of five years for causing death by dangerous or reckless
driving. However, disqualification may be for “such longer period as the Court
may think fit”.
In this case, the sentencing judge
said Carter’s driving record was horrendous and the worst he had ever seen. Before
the fatal accident, Carter had been disqualified from driving five times in seven
He was legally able to drive again
in September 2006; the incident that led to Mr. Seymour’s death occurred in January 2007.
During his trial, jurors heard that
Carter lost the sight in his left eye at age 10. He said he compensated by
positioning his body or turning his head to increase his field of vision. When
driving, “I try to stay in the middle of my lane.”
During the appeal, court president
Sir John Chadwick referred to this fact. “It is impossible to avoid the
suspicion that this accident occurred because he simply did not see the
pedestrian,” he commented.
Crown Counsel John Masters said
there was an element of speculation in blaming Carter’s limited sight for the
accident because this incident was not a one-off.
“If you can’t see, you shouldn’t be
driving,” Sir John said.
Mr. Masters cited the Traffic Law and
Traffic Regulations. The law says no person is qualified to drive a vehicle
unless he is of the prescribed age and experience, is not disqualified, has
passed the relevant driving test and “is not disqualified from driving by
reason of suffering from any relevant disability”.
Sir John asked, “Being blind in one
eye is not a relevant disability?”
In the definition section of the Traffic Law, “relevant disability” in
relation to any person means “any prescribed disability” and “any other disability
likely to cause the driving of a vehicle by him to be a source of danger to the
Mr. Masters then referred to the
regulation setting out 10 requirements for the passing of a driving test. The
first is: “The applicant shall satisfy the examiner… that he can read in good
daylight (with the aid of glasses if worn) a licence plate number fixed to a
motor vehicle at a distance of 60 feet.”
Sir John noted that this
requirement did not seem to take into account such conditions as tunnel vision.
Mr. Allen pointed out earlier that
Carter had passed a driving test when he first received his licence.
He asked the court to consider the
rehabilitative aspect of sentencing. “If prison serves any purpose at all, we
would hope he has learned his lesson.” After Carter completes his sentence, he
may not be able to work because all of his jobs as a plumber required him to
drive to various sites, Mr. Allen added.
Sir John asked if it were more
important that Carter should be able to work or that people should be protected
“We have no material before us to
suggest you cannot get to work on this Island
without a car,” he pointed out.
Mr. Allen suggested a period of
disqualification followed by a requirement to re-take the driving test.
Mr. Masters said disqualification
from driving for life is a sentencing option in England
but there is also provision for the person concerned to apply for a review
after a number of years. He pointed out that driving is a privilege, not a
After considering the matter with
Justice Ian Forte and Justice Abdullah Conteh, Sir John announced the court’s
decision and said reasons would be put into writing.