When Should the Elderly Stop Driving?

By: Vicky Nguyen
By: Vicky Nguyen

The death toll has grown to tena and as many as 50 other people
are recovering from their injuries, all because an elderly man plowed
his car into a crowd of people at a farmers' market in Santa Monica.

It was shocking to see the carnage and shocking to see the man responsible for it . . . 86-year-old Russell Weller.

Instead of the brake, he stepped on the accelerator pedal. His car sped through two-and-a-half blocks of produce and people. So far, he hasn't been charged with a crime.

"Unless there is later intent proven, I think we're going to find he's an 86-year old driver who may not have been as competent he needed to be to drive the car," said James Butts, Santa Monica Police Chief.

Like the survivors, Weller will be living with this on his mind.

That horrific accident raises the question . . . should there be age
restrictions on seniors behind the wheel?

Only 2 states - Illinois and New Hampshire - require drivers older
than 75 to pass road tests before renewing their license.

In looking at the laws in the State of Nevada, we found out age alone is not enough for the state to take away a license or require a driving test.

But after age 71, seniors here do have to send in a doctor's note along with their renewal.

These are not laws that are likely to change soon, but there are
other things that can be done to make sure seniors - and their fellow
drivers - are safe on the road.

Bill and Kathryn Van Meter have been driving for more than 60
years. In fact, the 80-year-olds just bought a new Lexus that needs to be registered.

They're both saddened by news of the deadly accident in Santa
Monica, but they say it's no reason to slam the brakes on senior
drivers.

"I feel very confident. I feel capable of driving," says Bill.

They say their reflexes are still sharp, and they don't think it's fair to single out senior citizens.

"Young people are just as dangerous on the highways as older people," Kathryn notes.

Some research backs that up.

The American Automobile Association studies show teens are more likely to get in fatal crashes because of their inexperience.

They also show seniors are more likely to wear their seatbelts and less likely to speed or drink and drive.

But aging takes a toll.

"People start to lose their hearing and vision and their ability to react," says Lisa Foster of the AAA.

C.J. Bergmans disagrees . . . he turns 79 next month and plans to keep
driving until . . . "whenever I pass out, pass away," he says.

But safety experts say seniors aren't always the best at self-judgment. So families need to step in with alternatives when it's time to stop driving.

There's Citifare, family members should help, friends can pitch in and helps seniors get where they need to go.

And that community help will become even more important as the number of senior drivers continues to grow.

By 2020, it's estimated more than 40 million drivers in America will be 65 or older.

On our Web site is a link to the AAA Senior Drivers Web site. It has a list of 15 questions that will help you get a better idea of your ability behind the wheel.


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