I felt safe, blind man who crashed car tells court

A BLIND man told a court yesterday that he fulfilled his lifelong ambition of driving a car – but crashed it minutes after getting behind the wheel.

Paul Keatings, 42, took to the road for the first time in a powerful Subaru Impreza while out with a friend.

Keatings, who is registered blind and uses a white stick, drove for less than a mile in New Lanark before an eyewitness claimed he came within inches of knocking down a pedestrian.

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His journey came to a halt moments later when he smashed into a roadside boulder at the entrance to the New Lanark Mill Hotel in the World Heritage village, Lanark Sheriff Court heard.

Keatings was charged with driving dangerously through blindness after the incident in May and appeared at Lanark Sheriff Court yesterday.

He also admitted driving without insurance and with only a provisional licence, which he gained before he turned
almost completely blind due to a congenital eye condition that developed when he was in his late twenties.

His friend Brian Gillon, 33, whose father’s car was the vehicle involved, admitted allowing a person unfit through blindness to drive the car and permitting a person with no insurance to drive the car.

Yesterday, Keatings, of Wishaw, Lanarkshire, told the court that realising his motoring dream ended in disaster.

He said: “I used to have a provisional licence and driving has always been a lifelong dream. When my friend suggested I give it a try, I jumped at the chance.

“He drives a Subaru, which is the same model as the rally driver Colin McRae famously drove. He had one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the hand-brake. I had both hands on the steering wheel.

“I felt safe enough, because I was going slow and my friend had his hand on the wheel and was telling me where to go. But the next thing I knew we had hit a huge rock.

“I was shaken up and was just glad no-one had been hurt,” he said. “I know it was a really silly thing to do, and I’m sorry for what I’ve done.”

Keatings’ sight has deteriorated badly in recent years and he is now able only to discern “vague shadows”.

He added: “I have Leber’s disease, which is a hereditary condition passed down from my mum’s side. I started going blind when I was 28, and within a month I’d almost completely lost my sight. I can still make out the outlines of shadows from the side, though.”

The court heard that at around 3pm on 25 May visitors to New Lanark noticed a car being driven erratically down the hill towards the centre of the village, swerving across the road and nearly hitting a pedestrian.

The car then careered into one of the boulders at the side of the entrance gates to the hotel, where it was captured by CCTV cameras.

The court also heard that Mr Gillon had to help Keatings
to steer the vehicle during the brief journey.

Deferring sentence until next month for background reports, Sheriff Nikola Stewart said: “I need to know what on earth caused these people to behave in this utterly ridiculous manner.

“It was an utterly lethal thing to do. He couldn’t steer and he couldn’t brake.”