Record of Investigation into Death (Without Inquest)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Stephen Raymand Carey, Coroner, have investigated the death of Ruth Mary Richards
(a) The identity of the deceased is Ruth Mary Richards (‘Mrs Richards’);
(b) Mrs Richards died on 30 August 2012, 15 metres south of Derwent Water Avenue junction with Sandy Bay Road, Sandy Bay;
(c) Mrs Richards was born in Sydney on 7 September 1935 and was aged 76 years;
(d) Mrs Richards was a married woman who was a retired office manager;
(e) Mrs Richards died as a result of multiple blunt traumatic injuries suffered as a pedestrian when hit by car; and
(f) At the time of the Mrs Richards’ death she was not being treated by a medical practitioner.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death:
On Monday, 27 August 2012, Mrs Richards arrived in Hobart to attend a National Country Women’s Association Conference being held at the Wrest Point Convention Centre in Sandy Bay. Whilst in Hobart, Mrs Richards was sharing a room with another delegate, Ruth Elizabeth Shanks, at Motel 429. That motel is situated at 429 Sandy Bay Road, Sandy Bay, approximately 280 metres south of a side entrance to the Wrest Point Hotel complex. Access to the Wrest Point complex from Sandy Bay Road in this area is by way of an open gate which is located on the eastern side of Sandy Bay Road, approximately 30 metres south of the junction of Lambert Avenue and 190 metres north of Motel 429. Mrs Richards and Ruth Shanks would walk to and from their accommodation and the Wrest Point Convention Centre at least twice a day. They would cross Sandy Bay Road in an area of the pedestrian refuge situated on Sandy Bay Road near the intersection with Derwent Water Avenue at least four times a day. This is the refuge near which a motor vehicle accident occurred which took Mrs Richards’ life. Sandy Bay Road, at this junction, has two north bound lanes and one south bound lane. Approximately 15 metres south of the junction of Derwent Water Avenue, between the lanes, there are two raised traffic islands. The section between the traffic islands forms what is described as a pedestrian refuge. This area is not designated as a pedestrian crossing.
On the afternoon of Thursday, 30 August 2012 Mrs Richards returned to her accommodation at 429 Sandy Bay Road after the day’s completion of events at the conference. At approximately 5:00pm, or shortly thereafter, she telephoned her husband and had a general conversation. At that time Mrs Richards appeared to her husband to be in good spirits during the course of that telephone call. Shortly after 6:30pm, Mrs Richards has left her accommodation with the intention of walking back to the Wrest Point complex. The New South Wales representatives at the conference were having dinner at Wrest Point hotel and it was her intention to dine with them.
The investigation has determined that Mrs Richards has commenced her walk (northbound) along the western footpath of Sandy Bay Road towards Wrest Point. When opposite the pedestrian refuge, approximately 15 metres south of the junction of Derwent Water Avenue, she has attempted to cross the road from west to east. At this she is was wearing dark clothing in the form of black trousers, black jumper and a maroon coloured jacket. At this time it was dark and vehicles travelling in the area had their headlights on.
Mrs Richards has stopped on the western footpath of Sandy Bay Road adjacent to the pedestrian refuge. At this location the roadway is straight and there are two northbound lanes and one southbound lane. The area of road in the vicinity of this area was darker than the other sections of Sandy Bay Road. The investigation has determined that a person crossing the road at this location has a clear and unobstructed view of vehicles and/or their headlights approaching from either direction. The visibility for a pedestrian of vehicle approaching from the south is estimated at well over 200m.
Mrs Richards has stepped off the footpath and commenced to cross the road. At the time of doing so there was a vehicle approaching from her left (travelling southbound) on Sandy Bay Road and a vehicle approaching from her right (travelling northbound) on Sandy Bay Road. The northbound vehicle was a dark blue Subaru Impreza wagon registered number FJ 5619. This vehicle was being driven by Mark David Macmillan Elliott. The vehicle was travelling in the eastern most of the two north bound lanes and detailed investigation has determined that it was travelling at approximately 60km/h which is the maximum speed limit in that area. At the time that Mrs Richards commenced to cross the road the Subaru vehicle was approximately 50 metres south of her. The headlights of the Subaru were on low beam. At this time the vehicle approaching from the opposite direction was a Holden Astra, blue two-door hatchback registration number A 09 SQ being driven by Emily Jane Morgan. The headlights of this vehicle were also at low beam.
Mrs Richards has walked across the western most of the two northbound lanes. As Mrs Richards has moved into the eastern most northbound lane, walking towards the pedestrian refuge, she was struck by the Subaru vehicle at a point approximately 100 centimetres into this lane. Evidence determined as a result of this investigation indicates that Mr Elliott did not see Mrs Richards prior to impact. At no time did he see her crossing the road and it would appear that at the time of impact she was still walking towards the pedestrian refuge. The impact of the vehicle has been at the front on the passenger side of centre. Upon impact Mr Elliott has applied the brakes of his vehicle, reduced speed and parked on the left hand side of the western most lane parking the vehicle approximately 24 metres north of a prolongation of the northern most corner of the junction of Derwent Water Avenue. Damage was caused to the front, bonnet, windscreen and roof of this vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle travelling south, Ms Morgan, noted as she passed the approximate area of the junction with Derwent Water Avenue (approximately 15 metres north of the impact point) the legs of Mrs Richards being illuminated in the headlights of the approaching Subaru. She had not seen Mrs Richards prior to this point. Ms Morgan reports that her headlights only illuminated the dark clothed legs of Mrs Richards and she did not see her torso.
After impact Mrs Richards has come to rest on the median strip approximately 32 metres north of the point of impact and 16 metres south of the parked Subaru. CPR was commenced at the scene by a nurse and medical practitioner who arrived at the scene in other vehicles and this was maintained until the arrival of ambulance personnel. Upon arrival of ambulance paramedics it was established that Mrs Richards had died and CPR endeavours were ceased.
At the scene of the accident there was a street light positioned on Sandy Bay Road on the eastern footpath adjacent to the junction of Derwent Water Avenue. There is also a small light pole on the eastern footpath adjacent to the pedestrian refuge. Both of these lights were operating. Another street light pole was located on the western footpath, 15 metres south of the pedestrian refuge. This light was non-operational. On the southern corner of the junction of Derwent Water Avenue there was a street light; however this light was positioned in Derwent Water Avenue and did not assist lighting in Sandy Bay Road. There are trees on both side of Sandy Bay Road at this point and the limbs of the tree on the western side of the road (in the area of the pedestrian refuge) extend above and across both northbound lanes. The area of road in the vicinity of the pedestrian refuge was therefore darker than other sections of Sandy Bay Road. The street lights referred to above had little effect on lighting conditions in the immediate area. It was a relatively dark night as although there was a full moon there was substantial cloud cover.
The roadway at the time of the accident was dry and the ambient temperature was 8 degrees Celsius. The crash occurred on a straight section of road. To the south of the crash there is an open but sweeping curve, for northbound traffic that curves to the right. Whilst crossing Sandy Bay Road west to east at the point of the pedestrian refuge there is a clear uninterrupted view of approaching traffic from both directions. The sight distance of southbound traffic is over 100 metres and of northbound traffic over 200 metres. There are two northbound lanes however a pedestrian is unable to determine which lane a northbound vehicle is in until the vehicle has negotiated the curve and is approximately 60 to 80 metres south of the pedestrian. It is not considered that weather or road conditions were a causative factor in relation to this accident.
Subsequent to the accident Mr Elliott submitted to a blood test at the Royal Hobart Hospital analysis of which revealed that he had a blood alcohol reading of 0.142g/100ml. Given this blood alcohol reading the investigation then centred upon the possible culpability of Mr Elliott in respect of this accident given that his reading was nearly three times the legal limit and that research shows a person affected to that extent by alcohol whilst driving was markedly more likely to be involved in an accident. The investigation determined that there was no clear evidence to support that Mr Elliott was markedly affected by alcohol at the scene or subsequently and the investigation was unable to determine as a matter of fact the degree to which he was affected by the alcohol. The findings of the police investigation as to the culpability of Mr Elliott were considered by the Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions who advised in December 2012 that given testing by the investigating police indicated that at best Mr Elliott would have been able to see Mrs Richards 25 metres from impact, and that as this distance was less than needed from reaction time to accident avoidance, he concluded that even if Mr Elliott had not been drinking there would have been insufficient reaction time for him to avoid hitting Mrs Richards. It was therefore determined that it could not be shown that Mr Elliott’s alcohol consumption or inattention was a cause of the accident and the subsequent death of Mrs Richards.
Following this Mr Elliott was prosecuted in relation to the offence of exceeding 0.05% alcohol in his blood, he pleaded guilty and a penalty was imposed.
Other matters of note in respect of the results of the investigation are that although there was insufficient scene evidence from which a speed determination for the Subaru vehicle could be made, evidence from witnesses confirmed that the Subaru was travelling at speed in the vicinity of 60km/h. The actual scene examination found nothing to dispute the evidence of witnesses and Mr Elliott in this regard.
I am advised that for the purposes of crash investigation an accepted perception and reaction time to an unforseen circumstance during the hours of darkness is up to 2.5 seconds. Accordingly a vehicle travelling at 60km/h is covering 16.6 metres per second. On the section of road where this accident occurred, a vehicle with ABS assisted breaking, as per the Subaru, travelling at a speed of 60km/h will take 17.5 metres to come to a stop under maximum breaking. If those figures are used in an appropriate mathematical formula which is accepted in determining the distance it would take a car to stop from the point of perception the distance is determined to be 59 metres. The vehicle involved in this accident has come to a stop 48 metres north of the point of impact which is some 11 metres short of the notional accepted perception to stop distance which is 59 metres. Given that Mr Elliott states that he did not see the pedestrian nor did he break prior to impact his perception and reaction time has commenced at the time of impact. Given the above analysis this supports the finding that the vehicle involved was not exceeding the maximum limit of 60km/h.
The police officers investigating this accident have accepted international data that suggests that an expected average walking speed of females aged 60 years and over was found to be 1.4 metres per second (5.04km/h). Evidence suggests that Mrs Richards walked briskly on previous occasions when she crossed the road and it could well be that she in fact was walking faster than this accepted standard. However, using that material as a guide it is noted that Mrs Richards has walked a distance of no more than 4.2 metres from stepping off the western footpath to the point of impact. The time taken for this is estimated to have been no longer than 3 seconds. At the time that she has commenced to cross the road the Subaru (travelling at a speed of 60km/h) would have been approximately 50 metres south of her position. This distance is less than the accepted perception to stop distance of 59 metres which was calculated above. To confirm this conclusion re-enactments were conducted as part of the police investigation. Such re-enactment involved a police officer commencing to cross the road at the accident site when a police vehicle is approximately 50 metres south of the participant. It is reported that on all occasions of this test the participant pedestrian was required to stop in the western most northbound lane in order to avoid being struck by the test vehicle. The testing, however, revealed that pedestrians crossing the road, west to east, at this point would be able to see the headlights of approaching vehicles (both directions) prior to actually stepping off the western curb and at all times whilst crossing the road. It was noted, however, that in the area where the accident occurred, the roadway was shadowed in darkness although there were street lights to the north and south of that location. This testing also identified that if a vehicle’s headlights were on full beam rather than low beam the visibility of a pedestrian was increased. On those occasions there was found to be sufficient time to commence breaking prior to reaching the pedestrian on the roadway.
The investigation has determined that during the period 1 July 2007 to 30 August 2012 there had been two previous serious pedestrian incidents on this section of roadway. In February 2009, a 71 year old female was struck when she was attempting to cross the roadway from east to west in the same vicinity where the subject accident occurred. She was hit by a southbound motor vehicle and the accident occurred in the mid afternoon. In July 2009 a 71 year old female was hit by a car attempting to cross the roadway at a point approximately 50 metres south of Lambert Avenue (adjacent to the Wrest Point Casino complex). This accident also occurred in the mid afternoon.
As a result of these incidents, road works were carried out that included a reduction in the number of southbound lanes, right hand turning lanes and pedestrian refuges such as the one involved in this accident. After this accident a review was again conducted by the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources and this identified that a street light was not operation at the time but determined that no further road work measures were required. On behalf of Mrs Richards’ family, Mr Blake Richards provided a representation of possible recommendations that ought to be considered in this matter. I have considered those matters and agree that given the likelihood of pedestrians in this area that the speed limit ought to be lowered. This in fact has already occurred with this section of roadway now the subject of a 50km/h speed limit. There has also been signs erected warning of pedestrians and bicycle traffic in the area. The width of the roadway has been decreased due to the creation of bicycle lanes on both sides of the roadway. I believe that these changes will provide added safety to pedestrians in this area.
Given that Sandy Bay Road is a major arterial roadway, I do not consider that the creation of a formal pedestrian crossing or flashing lights in the area are appropriate. The erection of an overpass would be costly and I do not consider that this would be warranted. As to whether or not private business operators ought to provide complimentary shuttle vehicle services for their guests is a matter for them.
It was also suggested on behalf of the family of Mrs Richards that she may have been confused or assumed that the Subaru was travelling in the western most lane as she entered the eastern most lane. I note that Tasmanian traffic rules allow vehicles to travel in the right hand lane of dual highways where the speed limit is not greater than 80km/h.
It is suggested that Mrs Richards may have been unaware of this as it is inconsistent with traffic rules in her home State. My investigation determined that this is a relatively consistent rule throughout Australia and in particular in built up areas where the speed limit is 60km/h or thereabouts vehicles are free to travel in each lane of a dual roadway. In any event, the police re-enactments identified that Mrs Richards would have been able to identify which lane the Subaru was in before she entered that lane. The contribution by the possible inattention or miscalculation of Mrs Richards cannot be excluded.
Comments and Recommendations:
The one matter that I do consider requires attention is the extent to which the foliage of trees in the area shadowed the roadway at the area of the subject pedestrian refuge. On the night of the accident, the available lighting had already been compromised by one street light being non-operational but the trees also reduced the amount of available light to the area of the pedestrian refuge. These areas, of their very nature, need to be well lit and I recommend that the Hobart City Council conduct an assessment of the impact that these trees have on lighting the roadway in the vicinity of the pedestrian refuge and that the trees be pruned or shaped in such a way as to ensure foliage does not interrupt the lighting available to this area of the roadway.
I have decided not to hold a public inquest into this death because my investigations have sufficiently disclosed the identity of the deceased, the date, place, cause of death, relevant circumstances concerning how her death occurred and the particulars needed to register her death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. I do not consider that the holding of a public inquest would elicit any significant information further to that disclosed by the investigations conducted by me.
Before I conclude this matter, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the family of Mrs Richards.
DATED: 19 June 2014 at Hobart in the State of Tasmania.