Noon, on Thursday, January 17, was a beautiful sunny day in St. Petersburg, making the people standing in line at the Euclid Station Post Office want to get finished with their business and be on their way. With nine people in line and two being serviced, the sudden crashing of medal and glass caught everyone off guard with mental images of a wrecking ball shaking the front of the building.
The screeching of tires and more shattered glass were heard as the vehicle peeled out backwards. Everyone inside rushed toward the fallen man in the lobby to help him. Once they reached his side, he was helped up and questioned about his physical condition, with no injuries reported. They all looked outside the huge gaping hole in the front of the building expecting to see the damaged vehicle that had bombarded the structure, but it was not in the parking lot.
One female witness yelled out, “The driver just took off. He just drove away without even looking back.” The incredulous crowd looked at each other in amazement, as the postmaster appeared in the lobby to see what had happened, and inspected the tread marks that had melted the linoleum tiles of the floor.
One of the men who had been standing in line pointed across the street to the sidewalk, and said, “Look, there’s the car that hit the building.” Visually following the tracks, one could see the car had backed up at high speed through the parking lot, over the curb, knocked down a pole, flew across the intersection to the left and ended up on the sidewalk.
The ninety-year-old lady was shaken, but still sitting in her car stunned. Two men ran across the street to see if she was in need of medical assistance and to be sure she didn’t flee, while a female post office worker called 911.
Within seconds a fire truck and ambulance barreled down the street with sirens blaring as the traffic came to a stand still. The car’s driver-side tires had both been blown out, and the front bumper was nowhere to be seen. Yet, the lady inside wasn’t noticeably injured.
Surveying the damage, calculated speed of the vehicle, and distance it had backed up had everyone thankful for their incredible good fortune. No one was hurt in the building. No one got mowed down in the parking lot, and no one in another vehicle slammed into this woman’s car as she flew across the intersection backwards.
“That’s why I took away my mother’s car keys,” loudly declared the male postal worker, and everyone present heartily agreed with his wisdom.
Since Carnegie Mellon University conducted a detailed study of drivers over the age of eighty-five, it has become a known fact that these elder Americans are four times more likely than a teenage driver to have a fatal accident. That breaks down to three fatal accidents per day in the United States.
It has also been estimated that all baby boomers will be sixty-five or older by the year 2030, at which time twenty-five percent of all vehicular homicides will be caused by our elderly population. This may not seem possible, but when one takes into account that Florida has more than 250,000 elderly drivers currently over the age of eighty-five, of which approximately twenty percent are suffering from one type of dementia or another, it can be down right scary to even think about.
With these statistics, each state is starting to take the problem of elderly driving much more seriously. A change in policy in many states is being implemented requiring drivers over sixty-five to retake vision tests every year. Though applying stricter rules and having people tested annually can help a little, in reality, the public money would be better spent in heavily populated areas with a better public transit system geared toward the needs of elderly travelers. This could be aimed at the necessities of life, such as local grocery stores, pharmacies, malls, restaurants, and places of worship that would follow a nearby route from large residential areas to popular destinations and back. More adult communities could be built with their own private transit department for easy access to everything. Also, it would be extremely helpful if more online services to order and have products delivered to homes were available.
State motor vehicle agencies will find it easier to restrict people unable to safely drive, than people will find it possible to convince family members that it is time to stay off the road. Most mature Americans don’t want to give up their freedom of getting to where they want to go, whenever they like. The fear of isolation and boredom keeps them driving to do activities or to see friends and family.
However, it is the responsibility of every son, daughter, niece, nephew, and grandchild to monitor and be aware of any decline in mental or physical ability their family members may have that would make them incapable of driving or a hazard on the street. Then, as gracefully and kindly as possible, these loved ones must be convinced to relinquish their driving rights. This could save many lives, such as your elderly loved ones, other family members who could be riding in the car with them, and their possible crash victims.
In reality, there is really only one key to road safety. That is to remove the key that is keeping those that shouldn’t be driving off the road.