When should you take the keys away from an elderly driver?
by Patt Morrison
Two car accidents involving elderly drivers have reignited the debate about how old is too old to drive. A 74-year-old man driving on a suspended license drove the wrong way on Highland Avenue this morning, crashing into a minivan and killing a mother and two young children.
Yesterday, a 100-year-old man with a completely clean driving record and valid driver license accidentally backed his car into a sidewalk in South Los Angeles, injuring 11, including nine children. Preston Carter says he lost control of his car. Police say Carter merely made a miscalculation, and was not under the influence of any substances.
These two incidents evoke memories of a 86-year-old driver who killed 10 and injured 63 when he lost control of his car in a Farmers Market in Santa Monica in 2003.
In light of these incidents, do we need to reconsider the ways in which we address senior citizens behind the wheel? In the state of California, anyone over the age of 70 cannot renew their license through mail, they must take vision tests and hearing tests when necessary, and they can be subjected to behind-the-wheel driving tests — but is that enough?
A representative from the Auto-club of Southern California, Jeffrey Spring, explains that after the notorious Santa Monica crash there were no legislative changes. Both the 2003 incident and yesterday’s accident are “anomalies,” he said. “For the most part seniors as a group of drivers are a safer.”
Rass Rader, a spokesperson from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, explained that it isn’t just anecdotal evidence that illustrates seniors are safer drivers — the numbers can back it up.
“Earlier in the 2000s researchers were really concerned that the rapid increase in the older driver population was going to have a big effect on crashes, especially as the baby boomers aged, and the older driver crash problem would become bigger,” Rader said. “In fact the opposite occurred, during the last decade the picture for older drivers has actually improved. Even as we have more older drivers on the road, their keeping their licenses longer and driving more, the rate of … crash involvements is dropping.”
On the phones and online, listeners overwhelmingly supported allowing seniors to remain on the road if they were capable drivers. Many, including Spring, supported family communication and intervention when necessary.
Parker, a caller from Irvine, works as a home-care professional and addresses the issue of senior drivers frequently.
“We find it’s so important to take it on a case-by-case basis and evaluate the senior’s social situation and take in consideration their health status and their health conditions,” Parker told Patt. “If you do remove the privilege [of driving] there needs to be an offset, something that replaces that, whether you have a caregiver in place who can do the transportation or child stepping up to help, or public transit in some of those communities that provide senior services. There needs be the ability for the senior to still feel connected to the outside the world.”
The ability to drive, especially in cities like Los Angeles, is considered a necessity and the freedom driving gives seniors is extremely important. Since these sort of vehicular tragedies are, as Spring said “are an anomaly,” can we justify any sort of generalizations or apprehensions we may have of elderly drivers?
“Older drivers tend to be demonized as if they’re a big risk to people out on the road -- and even though this case out in California is tragic — this is a rarity. In fact, based on population, 30 year olds kill more people out on the road than elderly drivers do.”
Teenagers pay more in insurance because they are believed to be a greater accident risk. Does a similar pricing structure affect elderly drivers? Should it?
Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety