A car hit a line of people waiting at an ice cream shop in Orange County, Calif. on Friday evening, killing one person and injuring six others. The SUV, with a 70-year-old driver behind the wheel, reportedly surged forward from the parking lot space, striking the pedestrians waiting outside Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour in Buena Park. The incident has once again raised concerns over preventable accidents caused by elderly drivers.
According to a report from The Associated Press on April 26, as carried by Fox News, an elderly woman was killed when the man's silver Suzuki XL7 plowed into her. Witnesses say the driver appeared to confuse the gas and brake pedals. His SUV ran over a small fence and struck those who were sitting or waiting outside of the ice cream shop.
“It looked like the guy put his foot on the gas pedal instead of the brake,” said Daniel Long, who was at Farrell’s with his family. “There were three people sitting on that bench – he just went straight into them and crushed them up against the window.”
The SUV driver, who was not identified, and his elderly female passenger were not hurt. Police questioned the driver, who cooperated and was not immediately cited. A 73-year-old woman was critically injured and later died at the hospital. According to the AP report, two other people were hospitalized with moderate injuries, three with minor injuries and a sixth person was treated at the scene for minor injuries.
The accident highlights a thorny subject – when should an elderly driver hang up the car keys? There are no mandated state or federal laws that provide for a baseline age where drivers are put on restrictions or forced to turn in their licenses. Some states do have accelerated renewal timeframes once a driver reaches an advanced age, but is that enough? Unfortunate as it may be, we all see many elderly ones driving when it is likely no longer safe for them to do so. Perhaps some of our own parents fall into that category.
An article on Kiplinger.com pointed out that as a group, “seniors age 80 and older have the highest rate of fatal crashes per mile driven – even higher than for teens – according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.”
Consumer driver site Edmunds.com says “about 5,500 adult drivers age 65 and older die each year in vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's double the number of teens killed annually in vehicle crashes.”
But it’s not just about the numbers. States Edmunds:
Deciding how long a person should continue driving shouldn't be based only on birthdays, according to Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit organization.
“We believe driving safety is a function of driving ability, not your age,” Nelson says. “What counts most is your medical fitness to drive.” In other words, a healthy senior citizen may be much for qualified as a driver than someone with medical concerns.
Jodi Olshevski, a gerontologist at The Hartford insurance company, agrees. “Usually if a person has a difficult time driving, it's due to some underlying health condition, not age,” she says. “It's more about health, not necessarily the number of birthdays you have had.”
While that may be true, certainly an individual advancing in years will also experience a correlated increase in health problems, often leaving the decision on whether they should continue to drive to family members. What are your thoughts on older ones behind the wheel? Leave your comments below.