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Throughout The Car Industry

Should Grandpa Get Behind the Wheel?

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On: Mon, May 10, 2010 at 9:41AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

Should Grandpa Get Behind the Wheel?

In January 2010, a San Diego car accident resulting in the death of a 15-year-old skateboarder was caused by a 92-year old man who drove away because he hadn’t even realized that he had struck a person. According to a news report, the elderly driver said that he thought he had run over an animal or a bird, but when he saw a vigil at the scene of the accident the following day, he realized that he may have actually hit a human being.

Six people were injured in Los Angeles last year after an elderly woman crashed into a restaurant. The 87-year-old motorist told officials that she had mistakenly put her car into drive instead of reverse, and then pressed the gas pedal. As a result, her sedan went over a parking block, then across a sidewalk, and into the front of the Taco Baja Grill. Police said one man suffered a broken leg and internal injuries. Others sustained minor injuries.

And then there was the infamous case of 17-year-old Katie Bolka, a high school student who was driving to school one morning. As she waited for a green light at an intersection in Dallas, she was unaware that Elizabeth Grimes, a 90-year-old neighbor, disregarded the traffic light that had been red for nearly 24 seconds. Grimes proceeded through the intersection without braking; she struck Katie’s car on the driver-side door. The elderly driver was traveling 10 mph over the speed limit, causing fatal injuries to the 17-year-old.

According to health and welfare analysts, these incidents are NOT uncommon; they are indicative of an increasing issue as the elderly population booms. Senior drivers, clinging to the independence that automobiles give them, are at high risk for accidents due to the aging process that may cause visual impairment, slower reaction time, decrease in motor skills, and lower tolerance to alcohol. Baby boomers are next in line to be seniors behind the wheel, so the problem is only going to get worse as the population of senior drivers increases.

According to reports, the most dangerous areas for senior drivers are intersections, where the most serious accidents occur. In fact, 40% of the fatal collisions involving people 70 and older occur at intersections, compared to just 23% of drivers in the 35-55 year old age bracket.

Fatality rates for drivers begin to rise swiftly after age 65, according to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. From ages 75 to 84, the rate of automobile fatalities is equal to the death rate of teenage drivers. For drivers over 84, the fatality rate is amplified to nearly four times higher than those caused by teenage motorists.

So should grandpa continue to drive? Supportive family members of elderly drivers may hesitate to take away their keys and limit grandma or grandpa’s independence; but there is grassroots political pressure—much of it arising secondary to recent high-profile accidents around the country (including the death of Katie Bolka) prompting some state legislatures to stiffen license-renewal requirements for elderly drivers. Other progress is being made by automakers in the research laboratory as engineers find ways to make vehicles more senior-friendly. And many government and non-profit agencies are making gains in education programs at the community level.



James Roberts | 11:46AM (Mon, May 10, 2010)

Like anything else, some people age better than others. Could there be an annual motor skill and vision test implemented for those over a certain age and an annual renewal or would it be considered prejudice and unconstitutional. Pulling away their independence especially those living in the suburbs or rural areas where mass transit virtually doesn't exist is a difficult proposition. If we don't want older people to drive, we need to provide them with viable options.


gator done | 12:51PM (Mon, May 10, 2010)

Unfortunately everything is prejudice and unconstitutional now a days.

My 88 year old grandfather who still drives today. He is a horrible driver. Of course you cannot tell him that. And family members cant take his license away from him, so the state should. A few years ago he was stopped at a red light and the teenager in the car next to him had his music very loud. After my grandfather screamed at the kid a few times, and the kid would not acknowledge him. My grandfather took his shoe off and threw it at the kid. It cleared the open window and slammed into the side of this kids head. And to this day my Grandfather will tell you he was justified in doing what he did.

Elderly people should have to take a driving test and a vision test every year!

  • gator done


James Roberts | 12:59PM (Mon, May 10, 2010)

Well your grandfather obviously has his motor-skills! In many states they do just that forcing an annual renewal. I think it would be depressing and disheartening to lose my license and my independence!


gator done | 1:31PM (Mon, May 10, 2010)

I agree, I am sure it would be devastating in so many ways. But there comes a time when something needs to be done. If anyone's driving is dangerous to others on the road, something needs to be done.
My grandfather has dementia (which I did not mention earlier). The entire family thought it was hilarious that he threw a shoe at this kid and nailed him. But it is also very sad to watch someone you love deteriorate. And my Grandfather's 6 kids do not have the heart to take his license and car away from him. I don't think I could do it either. It is the families responsibility, but if the state would require testing every year, I do believe it would be easier on families.

  • gator done

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