Diabetic state cause of crash

A coroner's report into the death of a Timaru woman has raised concerns about people with diabetic conditions who drive.

Yvonne Jane McGlashan died on November 18, 2010, aged 59, after her car collided with a truck-and-trailer unit just north of Orari.

Coroner Richard McElrea's report, released yesterday, noted that Mrs McGlashan had been a diabetic for more than 40 years.

Mr McElrea said although Mrs McGlashan was "highly motivated to care for herself", her symptoms occurred less than 30 minutes into her journey and she failed to recognise them."

"The facts of this case, and expert opinion, highlight that hypoglycemia may not only impair driving safety but also judgement as to whether to continue to drive or self-treat," Mr McElrea said. Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood-sugar levels are too low.

According to the coroner's report, Mrs McGlashan began her drive to Christchurch about 12.30pm on November 18, 2010, but witnesses reported that her driving became erratic as she reached Winchester, with one driver stopping to call 111. The driver subsequently attempted to slow down Mrs McGlashan's vehicle by decreasing his own speed.

"This resulted in the rear vehicle closing up behind the front vehicle, the driver of which could clearly see her. He described [Mrs McGlashan] as appearing vacant, and motionless, with both hands on the steering wheel," Mr McElrea's report noted.

Witnesses observed Mrs McGlashan continuing to swerve across the road, before she collided almost head-on with a truck-and-trailer unit, just north of Orari about 1.08pm, dying instantly.

Forensic pathologist Dr Martin Sage's post-mortem noted Mrs McGlashan had a "very low" glucose level, which might have indicated hypoglycemia. She had no alcohol in her blood, nor was there any recent indication of her having food.

Dr Helen Lunt confirmed to the coroner that the risk of having a motor vehicle accident was much higher for patients with type-1 diabetes.

A statement from her husband, John McGlashan, said that his wife knew her symptoms very well.

Six years earlier, Mrs McGlashan had been involved in a minor accident, where she had crashed into a fence due to low blood sugar levels. Mr McGlashan said this had given her "a bit of a scare" - she visited a diabetic specialist to ensure she had her condition under better control.

When Mrs McGlashan's GP, Dr Ian Smith, reviewed her diabetes on August 31, 2010, he had no concerns.

Mr McElrea concluded the death was accidental, but the "overwhelming evidence" pointed towards Mrs McGlashan suffering from hypoglycemia at the time of the crash, and the truck driver did not have enough time to avoid the collision.

The Timaru Herald