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Road Safety Council moots proficiency test for tourists

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Wine buyer Matthew Cooper, who died after a road crash in Smith’s in 2021, is pictured out in the vineyards where he was said to be at his happiest (Photograph supplied by Richard Siddle)

Stricter standards for rental vehicles, including pedal bikes, and a road safety test for visitors to the island are under discussion by the Bermuda Road Safety Council.

Council chairman Dennis Lister III revealed the talks yesterday after an inquest into the 2021 road death of tourist Matthew Cooper heard that the hired pedal bike he was riding had faulty brakes.

Mr Lister said the council had been discussing for the past 18 months whether it should push for the introduction of an “association” or oversight body for vehicle rental companies and a proficiency test for their customers.

He also said the council, while it fully supported police investigations into road fatalities, was in favour of holding public inquests to determine the causes and potentially improve safety.

Matthew Cooper (Photograph courtesy of Richard Siddle)

Mr Cooper, 58, died at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital on October 29, 2021, after colliding with a car in Smith’s and sustaining traumatic brain injuries 12 days earlier.

Matthew Cooper had a ‘gloriously refreshing’ take on the world

Road crash victim Matthew Cooper, a wine buyer from Bow in East London, had “twinkling eyes”, a love of West Ham football club and a unique way of looking at the world.

Friend and colleague Richard Siddle paid tribute to him in an article in drinks industry newsletter The Buyer soon after he died at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in October 2021.

Mr Siddle wrote: “We are lucky in the wine industry to not just get to know such an array of great personalities, but spend time with them too.

“Even writing these few words I can see the twinkle in Matthew’s eyes that used to greet me whenever we caught each other’s attention at a trade tasting or wine event.

“You knew instantly that your plans were about to be changed. For time spent with Matthew was always very special and unique.”

He said Mr Cooper had a “way of looking at the world like no one else. Which was usually gloriously refreshing. He would start up a conversation as though you had just spent the last few hours with him, or were just coming back from the bar. Which is usually where things ended up.”

Mr Siddle recalled how dedicated Mr Cooper was to his work and keen to give feedback and help to the wine producers he met.

“He also had an uncanny knack of remembering what we had been talking about last time we met up,” wrote Mr Siddle. “He always had time for you, to listen to your stories.

“To pull your leg about how it was only a matter of time before West Ham was higher than Liverpool in the league.”

A tribute from Mr Cooper’s employer, Ellis Wines, described him as a "much-loved colleague and friend“ with a ”zest for life and extraordinary ability to make everyone feel special“.

There was no public inquest into his death in Bermuda, but this week a hearing took place at East London Coroner’s Court, with three members of Mr Cooper’s family, including his two children, joining via video link.

The hearing heard, in statements from the Bermuda Police Service, that the condition of the front brake of the black mountain bike he had rented from Oleander Cycles on October 14, 2021, two days after arriving as a visitor, “would have reduced the braking efficiency by about 90 per cent”.

Graeme Irvine, senior coroner for East London, said it was “disappointing” and “an omission” that the BPS had not investigated Oleander Cycles further.

Evidence given by witnesses included that Mr Cooper had turned to look for a hat which had flown off his head immediately before the collision on a hilly road.

The speed and the characteristics of the road were the main contributing factors to the collision, according to a statement from coroner’s officer Lyndon Raynor.

Mr Cooper was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs but may have been travelling too fast, while the driver of the Suzuki car that he collided with was not a contributing factor, the statement said.

Mr Irvine concluded that the cause of death was the result of a road traffic collision and not the fault of either Oleander Cycles or Mr Cooper’s own actions, “given the absence of evidence”.

Mr Lister told The Royal Gazette: “In the past year and a half, it’s something we have discussed with regard to having an association for rental bikes and the electric cars and the Whip electric scooters.

“Right now, there is no association with set standards across the board that would cover when you are renting a bike or other vehicle.

“We would be looking to make sure that across the board it’s all the same standard. It’s something we are still having discussions on and bringing in each of the stakeholders.”

Mr Lister, a Progressive Labour Party MP, said such standards could ensure Bermuda was “giving the best product for visitors and tourists” and would enable vehicle rental companies to be “held to account”.

He said the council was also discussing whether it should be mandatory for “any tourist or visitor … to have a standard test they would have to pass” before they could rent a vehicle.

Bermuda rarely holds public inquests into road deaths, despite recognition by the Government that road safety is a “national crisis”.

National security minister Michael Weeks told Parliament more than a year ago that 89 people had lost their lives on the roads since 2015, describing it as “carnage”.

Asked if a public inquest should be held for every road death, as happens in Britain, Mr Lister said: “Bermuda Road Safety Council will always support any enhancement or any way to get to better resolutions or results when it comes to accidents.

“We support the Bermuda Police Service in the efforts they do but we can always do a better job in finding out the results and causes of accidents.”

Oleander Cycles and the BPS were approached for comment for this article.

A BPS spokesman said: “We are unable to provide a response to you in as expedient a manner as you would like. As soon as we are able to, we will be sure to provide responses as best we can.”