Road death can serve as wake-up call for drivers

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The circumstances of the death of a Palmerston woman last year, should remind all drivers that even a distraction lasting a millisecond can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences, says Otago/Southland coroner David Crerar.

On the evening of September 22, Alison Margaret Stoddart, library assistant, of Palmerston, was driving a Hyundai vehicle south on SH1 near Shag Point after spending the afternoon at the beach in Moeraki with friends and their children.

Her husband, John William McCafferty was in the front passenger seat, and their eight-month-old daughter Eleanor McCafferty was in a child seat in the back.

While attempting to negotiate a sweeping left-hand bend in the road, she lost control and crashed the vehicle into a farm paddock.

She was alive when emergency services arrived, but was unresponsive and having difficulty breathing. She was airlifted to Dunedin Hospital where she was diagnosed as suffering from a significant head trauma which was unsurvivable.

The fact that baby Eleanor, who had been carefully strapped into a properly designed and fitted capsule survived the crash with no injuries was a credit to her parents, and technology, Mr Crerar said.

“Those volunteers assisting Alison Stoddart at the scene of the crash and the professionals involved in her transfer to Dunedin Hospital and her care in the Hospital are to be commended,” he said.

“All did their best for her in the circumstances and there is no evidence of failure of any individual or organisation to provide care to the appropriate standard.”

A serious crash unit investigation showed that although she was restrained by her seatbelt, there was sufficient slack in the restraint system, and sufficient stretch in the belt at impact, to allow her head to strike either the driver’s window or the B Pillar, causing the fatal injury.

Senior Constable Trevor Buchanan speculated that she was momentarily distracted while driving, but her husband was unable to confirm that.

Police were satisfied that her death was as a result of injuries from the collision.

Mr Crerar extended his sympathy and condolences to her family and friends.