Coroner’s jury in Sudbury makes 27 recommendations to strengthen licensing system

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A coroner’s jury has issued 27 recommendations in the Walter Blight inquest in Sudbury, Ont.

The 72-year old Elliot Lake man died in a collision on Highway 69 in July, 2015.

The four-day inquest looked into whether he should have been behind the wheel given his medical conditions, and whether anything could have been done to prevent him from driving.

Blight had a severe respiratory illness, and other health issues.

The number one recommendation from the jury is directed to the provincial government.

It would allow a police officer to suspend someone’s licence for 24 hours if they suspect a medical or physical condition affects someone’s ability to operate a vehicle.

The jury’s recommendations included 24 directed to the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), which is the only authority in Ontario that can suspend someone’s driver’s licence for medical reasons.

These recommendations include the creation of a portal in the MTO database, which would allow police across the province access to driver information, including whether a driver’s licence review has been submitted. However, neither the details of that report, nor personal health information would be included in the portal.

Other recommendations to the MTO focus on improvements to the driver’s licence review forms submitted by police and physicians. The jury wants the forms to include a section designating the level of urgency for the suspension, instructions for those filling the forms out, and allow them to be submitted electronically to the MTO.

The jury also felt a dedicated phone line is needed for police and physicians to call about driver’s licence concerns, and that that phone line be staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Ministry of Transportation to consider recommendations

The MTO has until the end of the year to report whether it has implemented any of these recommendations.

The Ministry of Transportation provided a written statement to CBC News shortly after the jury’s verdict Thursday: 

“We’d like to thank the jury for its recommendations. We’d also like to thank the coroner and all of the inquest’s participants. We’ll be carefully reviewing each recommendation directed to MTO before responding to the coroner. Safety is our top priority and we are always looking for ways to make our roads even safer.”

The final two recommendations from the jury are directed to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, and the Ontario Police College and all Ontario Police services, to update their guidelines to reflect the changes affecting physicians and police officers respectively.

The individual behind the change

The counsel to the coroner, Prabhu Rajan was pleased with the jury’s recommendations, although added we shouldn’t forget what the inquest was all about.

“A lot of words on a paper right now, but let’s not forgot the human behind it, Walter George Blight,” he said.

“I think if we can all learn a little bit from his death we’ll all be better. I think these recommendations respected what happened to him, and if implemented, will make a lasting change.”

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