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Motor Vehicle Accidents Caused By the Elderly

What steps can be taken to avoid these sometimes fatal mistakes?

 

I just returned from renewing my driver’s license and standing behind me in line, actually hunched over and leaning on the counter, was a gentleman who appeared to be close to 90. He had trouble walking and looked to be quite infirmed. 

I asked the woman who was waiting on me if there were any tests given to the elderly, before they were allowed to renew their license for another six years. She told me yes there were safeguards in place, in other states, but not in Connecticut.

We have all read and heard the horror stories of elderly drivers who either panic and hit the gas instead of the brake or put the vehicle in reverse instead of drive and plow into buildings and people. One recent CA accident involved an elderly driver that hit seventy three people, ten of whom died, before he finally stopped his car.

So where is the line to be drawn between providing our elderly parents, relatives and senior citizens with their much needed and deserved independence and not providing drivers’ licenses to people who should not be operating motor vehicles?

There are relatively few states that have safeguards in place that target elderly drivers. Only two states, Illinois and New Hampshire require a road test for people looking to renew their license at age 75 or above. Only three states require drivers who have reached a certain age to pass a vision test before renewing their license.

The most common types of age-based imposed conditions involve states that either prohibit mail renewal by elderly drivers (five states) or make older drivers renew their licenses at more frequent intervals than younger drivers (five states).

A CT DMV regulation authorizes police to suspend a driver license if they believe the driver is unfit to operate a vehicle without endangering public safety due to physical or mental condition. Once it has been forwarded to the DMV, the person must demonstrate that s/he is fit to drive a vehicle safely, usually with a road test, before their license is restored.

Although age related impairments occur gradually and at different rates for everyone, it would appear that the adoption of more frequent checks and balances on our elderly drivers would act to prevent accidents and save lives.

Oftentimes, adult children of the elderly are placed in the position of trying to get their aging parent to forego driving and are met with great resistence.  Perhaps if more states, including CT, had requirements in place like Illinois then this problem would occur with a greatly reduced frequency and all parties on the road would be safer.

What do you think?

Richard P. Hastings is a Connecticut personal injury lawyer at Hastings, Cohan & Walsh, LLP, with offices throughout the state. A graduate of Fordham Law School, he has been named a New England Super Lawyer and is the author of the books: "The Crash Course on Child Injury Claims"; "The Crash Course on Personal Injury Claims in Connecticut" and "The Crash Course on Motorcycle Accidents." He has also co-authored the best selling book "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing- What Your Insurance Company Doesn't Want You to Know and Won't Tell You Until It's Too Late!" He can be reached at 1(888)CTLAW-00 or by visiting www.hcwlaw.com.

Jim Flynn August 04, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Nothing will get done about this serious problem because politicians are scared of the elderly. They vote in very high numbers.
Interested Party August 04, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Good idea. Test everyone every few years. My casual observation tells me most people don't know, or choose not to follow the rules against distracted driving, wreckless driving, speeding and disregarding posted signs. In Bridgeport, it is clear that posted signs and traffic lights are viewed as "optional" by most drivers. In Fairfield doubleparking in the center neighborhoods is considered standard behavior. No wonder us old folks have to slow down and do a double-take at what the heck is going on. I wouldn't mind a test, but I know many others under 65 who ought to be tested, and tested, and tested.
Fr August 05, 2012 at 02:31 PM
You can be too young to drive....I think you can also be too old to drive. There are reasons we don't give driver licenses to 10 year olds...people can be too old to drive too. Losing yet one more form of independence has to be tough on an elderly person but people's lives are at stake here....innocent, young people. I also know politics plays a role here too....many more elderly do indeed vote so the pols have to abide by what they tell them to do and not commit political suicide by upsetting a (possibly) large group of voters. BTW...New York State (DMV? or Office of the Aging?) puts out a fantastic book entitled (something like) "When A Person Is Too Old To Drive". It details all the aspects of this issue to help elderly drivers make the decision....to help family members make the decision....and to offer many options for the elderly to get to places w/o a car. Not sure if CT has such a resource yet. A couple good links: http://www.aging.ny.gov/Caregiving/OlderDriver/DriverChapter4.cfm and http://www.agingcare.com/Articles/Is-It-Time-to-Take-Away-the-Keys-112306.htm

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