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   Inside Out - South West: Monday February 20, 2006

Older drivers

Man driving car
Older drivers - are they more accident prone?

Pensioners are the fastest growing group of drivers and they're rapidly becoming the most controversial.

Driving is more complex and demanding than it used to be with more traffic on the roads and new technology such as in-car navigation systems.

But are older drivers up to speed with these fast moving developments?

Inside Out South West investigates whether older drivers are more at risk of having accidents.

The centenarian driver

Tom Soulby is 100-years-old - he's possibly the oldest driver in the South West of England.

But on his 100th birthday his doctor brought him an unwelcome present.

"He said I'm very sorry to tell you, I've cancelled your licence," says Tom.

"Well that hit me because I'd been used to it for so long and I'd never contemplated it… I felt disgusted and told him I can't go on like this 'cos it'll mean selling my property.

"I've got to go to places and use my car - I'm using it every day. I can't do without it."

Tom has had his latest car since 1981. He's never had any accidents or got in trouble with the police - he has a good record.

But like many older drivers Tom sometimes struggles in difficult conditions such as blindingly bright light when he's approaching a roundabout.

Poorer driver perception

But are older drivers generally more of a risk?

"The factors which dictate risk on the road are: hazard perception, speed choice, driving violation and fatigue," says Professor Frank McKenna from Reading University:

"Older drivers present a balance between poorer hazard perception and reduced risk taking.

"Whether they are more or less at risk will be dictated by that balance."

In Torbay, there's been a spate of accidents involving older drivers.

In one a car was driven through the window of an estate agents.
In another, the car hurtled down a 10 feet drop.

In these accidents no one was seriously injured but sadly, two others proved fatal.

Those who deal with the aftermath of such accidents are concerned, as the Coroner Michael Johnston explains:.

"I can think of several cases where the only explanation for the actions taken by an older driver were either that they failed to look or failed to register the speed of an oncoming vehicle, and they've pulled out in front of them.

"On one occasion it was a large lorry. The man was known to be suffering from some confusion. He pulled out and was killed."

Review of older drivers


Allow plenty of time for your journey and plan the route in advance. Ask a passenger to navigate and keep an eye out for direction and exit signs.

Expect the unexpected. Be alert and anticipate and react to situations on the road ahead and in your peripheral vision.

The law requires a driver to renew his/her licence on reaching the age of 70, and every three years thereafter.

All drivers, whatever their age, are required by law to notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency of the onset or worsening of a medical condition which may affect their ability to drive.

Ask your doctor about the possible effects which any medicine or drug you have been prescribed may have on your driving.

Have your eyes tested regularly. It is an offence to drive any vehicle if you cannot read a standard number plate from 20.5m in daylight.

When to stop driving? You may feel the time has come if your reactions are becoming noticeably slower or you are finding traffic conditions increasingly stressful.

Read the DVLA leaflet mentioned above under 'The law and the older driver'. The Department for Transport's Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service provides disabled and older motorists with free, practical advice on driving.

Source: DFT

A review of driver licensing is currently underway and compulsory mental agility tests for drivers over 75 is one proposal being considered.

Some of the difficulties older drivers face are physical.

Designers at the Ford motor company are using a special suit to help them understand what it's like to be old.

It restricts movement in all joints so that the simplest manoeuvres become a real struggle

In addition to older drivers' physical problems, there's competency issues too.

As people become more experienced in driving years, their level of competency decreases.

They pick up bad habits. A course run by Devon County Council aims to increase competency and make drivers safer.

The tutors emphasise good observation and hazard perception.

Read about the courses.

"The older driver does have problems taking in all observations," says Professor Frank McKenna.

"At roundabouts they can usurp right of way and cause an incident.

"One of the difficulties people have is sheer pace of movements on the road.

"Decrease speed and we help ourselves and older drivers."

Greater risk?

So are older drivers at greater risk?

"If we consider whether older drivers are at greater risk, then we have to acknowledge that per mile driven they are at greater risk." says Dr Frank McKenna.

"But they tend to offset that by decreasing mileage, drive less at night and in rush hour.

"In these ways they offset higher risk by miles driven."

That's certainly true of Tom Soulby. His longest journey now is to visit his wife's grave and he's realistic about the future.

So will he ever give up driving?

"If I have a fall, maybe," he says determined to get back into the driving seat.

Today, the sight of a 100 year old behind the wheel is remarkable, but in the next 20 years there are likely to be more and more drivers like Tom.

Most will be reluctant to give up their car and, with it, their independence.

Read the older drivers' guide - Department for Transport Guide

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Fire kids

Kids fighting fire
Fighting fires and raising self esteem

Inside Out visits a fire fighting course with a difference.

Inside Out goes behind the scenes of a tough course for teenagers run by the Cornwall Fire Brigade.

The Phoenix Project is organised by Cornwall Fire Brigade to help young people develop their self confidence.

Over two weeks we follow a group of young people going through this grilling programme.

Confidence building

For five days a group of 14-year-old girls will be put through their paces by the course leader, Tim Cox.

The girls all come from Falmouth School.

The discipline used on the course is stricter to what the youngsters are used to, so how will they cope?

First of all, the girls get their uniforms and start some basic fire fighter training.

Tim and his colleagues are trying to teach the girls to march and run hoses, but it's a slow start.

The girls soon learn that if one of them don't try hard enough, they all get punished.

Although they start to make better progress, Tim makes sure he keeps the pressure on the girls.

The next training task involves the girls going into a large chamber to rescue a casualty, wearing breathing apparatus.

There's just one catch - they have to wear blind folds!

They also have to learn to conquer their fears, and communicate effectively as a team.

But the prospect of being blind folded in a room full of obstacles is proving too much for some students.

Military precision

The next task is for the girls to start practising the drill they will perform at the end of the course in front of their parents, teachers and the Mayor of Falmouth.

The whole operation is planned with military precision with everybody having a specific role to play.

Once again team work is all important.

As usual, tutor Tim is expecting a 100% from the girls, but will they manage to finish the course and come up to scratch?

Inside Out will be following the girls' progress for the next two weeks.

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The mystery of Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle Photo: PA
The mystery of Arthur Conan Doyle. Photo: PA Images

Dartmoor will forever be associated with Conan Doyle's best known story - The Hound of the Baskervilles.

But what if new evidence came to light that Conan Doyle was not the true author of the story - that he was a plagiarist, an adulterer and a murderer?

Could someone else really have written The Hound of The Baskervilles?

Inside Out investigates a mystery as complex and curious as a Sherlock Holmes murder case.

Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of Britain's best loved detective stories featuring the nation's favourite master sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.

But could it be possible that the story was plagiarised from another writer?

Devon author Rodger Garrick-Steele believes that Conan Doyle lifted the story from a fellow writer, Bertram Fletcher Robinson:

"The story had already been written - it was Bertie's manuscript called An Adventure on Dartmoor, and this is what was converted into The Hound of The Baskervilles."

He claims to have found circumstantial evidence that Conan Doyle may have murdered his former friend when he became worried that the deception might be exposed.

Garrick-Steele also believes that Arthur Conan Doyle may have been having an adulterous affair with Robinson's wife.

So is this a tale of more than just plagiarism?

The plot thickens...

Our story requires further investigation so Inside Out decided to collect some clues to help solve the loose ends in this mystery.

Let's start with what we do know about Conan Doyle.

TV shot of Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles - cult fiction and film

Arthur Conan Doyle originally trained to be a doctor and for a short time shared a practice in Plymouth's Durnford Street.

Twenty years later he returned to the South West of England with his friend Bertram Fletcher Robinson who had captivated Doyle with the legends of hounds on Dartmoor.

The two agreed to write a book.

Fox Tor Mires was one of many places they visited. It would be the inspiration for Grimpen Mire in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

It was a place full of mystery and Conan Doyle wrote of it - "A false step yonder means death to man or beast".

The mysterious case of the two writers

After the visit, the two men returned to the old Duchy Hotel in Princetown, and this according to Garrick-Steele is where things took a strange twist.

Conan Doyle wrote to his mother telling her that the story was nearly half written.

But Garrick-Steele asks how could this be if Doyle had only spent one day on Dartmoor?

Author and leading expert on The Hound of The Baskervilles, Philip Weller, believes there is a logical explanation:

"The first third of the story doesn't take place on Dartmoor, so it's perfectly reasonable he'd written it before arriving on Dartmoor."

Conan Doyle went on to enjoy huge success with the finished book.

The Hound of the Baskervilles became an instant classic inspiring countless film and television adaptations.

But Doyle did credit Robinson which may rule out the murder theory.

Garrick-Steele isn't convinced:

"Well, he had to…. Fletcher Robinson had already written the story."

Rodger Garrick-Steele believes that it was Robinson alone who wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles.

A study in adultery?

Rodger Garrick-Steele also believes that Conan Doyle had an affair with Robinson's wife.

Peter Cushing in Hound of the Baskervilles
A mystery to baffle Sherlock Holmes

He claims that Robinson's wife Gladys committed adultery with Conan Doyle in a bid to get pregnant.

"We believe she had an affair... we cannot prove it," he says.

But Philip Weller doesn't agree:

"Arthur Conan Doyle was a man of integrity… I don't think he was capable of being an adulterer."

Murder most foul?

But that isn't the end of the speculation about Conan Doyle's private life.

Garrick-Steele claims Conan Doyle murdered Robinson, fearing he'd be exposed as a plagiarist and an adulterer.

It's a mystery that even the great Sherlock Holmes might struggle to unravel.

According to official records Bertram Fletcher Robinson died in 1907 at the age 36 from Typhoid.

But Garrick-Steele thinks Conan Doyle poisoned Robinson with laudanum, using his medical knowledge as a qualified doctor.

The case of the poisoner?

An application has been made to have Robinson's body exhumed.

The Diocese of Exeter are expected to announce a decision within weeks.

Garrick-Steele believes it was unusual for a Typhoid victim to be buried rather than cremated 100 years ago, and suspects foul play.

Not necessarily according to Dr Anne Hardy from University College London:

"In the case of Typhoid it was very important that body fluids didn't escape from the coffin so it would probably be lined. The public health authorities would trust a middle class family to do things properly so the chances of an enforced cremation seem to me very unlikely."

Actors playing Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle's super sleuth on TV and in the movies

Garrick-Steele believes that Conan Doyle had Robinson poisoned with Laudanum - a common pain killer at the time.

But would Laudanum really mimic the symptoms of Typhoid?

"Stupor and coma are both features of the condition, but in Typhoid you would also see the patient suffering fever and a rash of spots across the chest.

"There are very distinct features which can distinguish the two conditions," says Anne Hardy.

So how would Garrick-teele feel if an exhumation confirmed that Robinson died of Typhoid?

"I'm not so sure I can accept that. If there is Typhoid how do we know it's Bertie's body in there?" he says.

Unsolved mystery?

Arthur Conan Doyle has been accused of plagiarism, adultery and murder so what does Philip Weller make of it all?

"There is only one person making these claims… there is little evidence to support them… there is a lot of hard evidence to refute them."

So will we ever find out how Robinson really died?

It's now up to the Diocese of Exeter to decide whether the exhumation should go ahead.

Until then, this is one Conan Doyle mystery that will remain far from having an elementary solution.

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