Letter: Time to hold elderly drivers accountable | January 2, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - January 2, 2013

Letter: Time to hold elderly drivers accountable

The tragic accident on Interstate 280 (Dec. 14) brought a fresh reminder of a growing danger among us, elderly drivers.

Following the reports of that tragic accident, I listened to several people at a holiday party talking about how surprised they were to hear that the 83-year-old driver who is responsible for the deaths of three people should be held criminally responsible.

My question is why not? Why should the advanced age of the driver limit or eliminate his accountability for the deaths of three people? Driving is a privilege, not a right, and we as a society can and do hold people responsible for their actions regardless of age. Elderly drivers and their families owe it to society to recognize when they are no longer capable of safely exercising their driving privileges and make other arrangements such as family, friends or Redi-Wheels.

Clearly no one likes to give up their independence but too often elderly drivers view their driving privilege as a right and they cling to it in an effort to preserve independence. The age at which someone should retire their automobile will vary but we should require all persons over a specific age, say 72, or those who have had strokes, onset of dementia. failing eyesight or other impairments to be tested more regularly, at least every two years. They should be required to pass a medical clearance as well as a driving test and a written test.

As our society ages we will continue to experience more of these deadly tragedies until we recognize that at some point safety concerns dictate a more rational approach.

Mark Gilles, Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park


Posted by Peter Smith, a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2013 at 7:37 pm

i have no problem holding elderly drivers accountable -- i'd just like to see every driver, regardless of age, held accountable. that does not happen now, of course.

people want to make judgements about elderly drivers, but are they more dangerous than young or middle-aged drivers? based on anecdotes and reports I've read, that answer is 'no'.

the young kids are out drag racing, smoking their blunts, texting, maiming and killing people.

the middle-aged folks are driving while drinking their coffee/booze, playing with the dog, buckling in their kids, texting/mapping/skouting/yapping, maiming and killing people.

in fact it seems rare that old people are maiming and killing folks. their crashes tend to be of the more sensational type in that their crimes scream 'old person did this!' -- but they're no more horrific than the crimes committed by younger drivers.

punish 'em all -- young and old. but better than that, fix malignant road designs to give walkers and bikers a chance -- to walk and bike -- and do do so comfortably and safely. outlaw drivers will be around forever, but we can protect the most vulnerable among us despite this -- build roads properly. protected bike lanes. wide sidewalks. _much_ more enforcement. strict liability laws. etc. all common sense.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 8, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Mr Smith:

anecdotal evidence is just that. The statistical evidence show that teen drivers and the elderly are the worst drivers.

Posted by mom of a teen, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 9, 2013 at 11:13 am

The evidence shows that teen drivers are far and away the worst. More mature drivers have better safety records. There's an upturn in accidents starting in the 70s, but nothing approaching the teen rate. For example: Web Link

Part of this is Darwinian, because the most reckless drivers off themselves early.

I know many careful drivers in their 70s and 80s. The drivers who scare me are the racers and the texters, and my anecdotal observation is that there are few seniors in either group. Every time I'm on the freeway I have to dodge a few of them, especially the drivers who are weaving from side to side while looking down, presumably at their smartphones. Why the laws against texting aren't enforced, I don't know.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm

^^^ Then ask the editor to address the issue of teen driving. DId you not understand the point of the editorial? The main point is the belief in it being a right to drive, amongst the elderly, makes it a problem for them to give up their license. The tragic events in the area recently, at the hands of elderly drivers, were avoidable. I think our respect for the elderly interferes w/judging them the way we judge other drivers, as is evidenced by the commenters above - aside from MV.

I was hit by an elderly driver in Menlo when I was a pedestrian. He didn't even stop. Some of our "villages" - Menlo, Atherton, Los Altos, are called "God's Waiting Room" due to the numbers of elderly inhabitants. Many of them are TERRIBLE drivers. When we were kids, we'd make fun of the oldsters driving their giant weapons from the church parking lot in Menlo- they were terrible drivers!

As population & health care have increased, the Boomers need to be kept from banging others w/their cars. It's an overlooked issue & I'm glad to see an editorial about it.

Posted by Pro boomer, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 9, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Most boomers are in our 40s and 50s, and we're driving our kids to school and soccer practice. Don't confuse us with octogenarians. Anyone else tired of all the boomer bashing?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2013 at 11:38 am

Boomer bashing? Please. If you cause the death or serious injury of others while driving, & you're elderly, you'll get more than an online bashing. Btw, most people in their 40s are X Gen. Are you so sensitive you refuse to acknowledge that bad driving among the elderly will increase w/the aging population whose life spans have been extended in recent decades? No bashing intended- just reality - & I don't want them literally bashing others w/their vehicles.

Posted by Driving Instructor, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 10, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Each collision has primary and secondary factors. It is imperative to never stop on the left hand shoulder, if avoidable. Many people need to understand the risk they put themselves and rescue personnel when they do not work their way onto the right hand shoulder at first sign of trouble.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Pro Boomer:
Your statement "Most boomers are in our 40s and 50s, and we're driving our kids to school and soccer practice" may show a bit of a misunderstanding of about the term "boomer" as XGen suggested.

Demographers define "The Baby Boom Generation" as people born between 1946-64...i.e., the post-World War II generation. Today, the boomer generation is between 49-67 years old.

Another note: Accident rates are lower for elderly drivers than they are for all other groups (national data). Maybe it's because they are not on the phone.

Posted by pro boomer, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 11, 2013 at 12:02 am

Nope, my spouse is a boomer, born in 1964, and he's only 48. And the only 67-year-old boomers are those with birthdays the first week of January. Fact is, there are no 80-year-old boomers. And a lot of people around here have kids in their 40s, so there are plenty of boomers, as I already noted, driving kids to school and soccer.

By the time the boomers start turning 80, I expect we'll have advanced computer control systems in our vehicles. Human driver error will no longer be a factor.

So, time to stop hating the boomers, especially as many of them are among the engineers who are at the forefront of these inventions!

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2013 at 11:02 am

Pro boomer - you're missing or ignoring the point of the letter.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2013 at 11:06 am

Pro-boomer --- Correct information:
1. People do not join the Boomer generation as they age. It is not a stage of life. Your BIRTH YEAR determines whether you are part of the Baby Boomers.

2. Your 48-year old spouse is in the very last group of the "Boomers," having been born in 1964. Demographers pretty much agree that all of the birth years between 1945-64 = the Baby Boom. (A few researchers use 1943-64 though). There was a huge increase in the number of births after WWII (+ a bit after the Korean War) -- hence a "Baby Boom."

3. All current 67-year olds, regardless of their birth month, are part of the Baby Boom generation due to their birth year. 80-year-olds are not in the cohort at all but are part of an earlier generation born in late 1920s-early 1930s.

Then we have Gen X, Gen Y and The Millenials...much smaller generations because of dramatically lower birth rates in the U.S.

Posted by Solution!, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 11, 2013 at 1:36 pm

I propose a new tax! A tax on "younger" drivers that will provide "older" drivers with free transportation to and from all their engagements for life.

Posted by pro boomer, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Nope, most 67-year-olds were born in 1945. If you go by strict BB years, they are not boomers. As far as I know, none of the people posting here are racehorses, so we don't all get a year older on January 1.

My point was that the accident rate of people in their 80s is not the fault of aging boomers. Unless you're one of those people who wants to blame everything evil in the world on boomers. People currently in their 80s are not part of the boomer generation. Chewing out boomers for what octogenarians do is like indicting 20-somethings for mistakes their parents are making.

"neighbor," since you live in another community, perhaps you are unaware that all of us have degrees from Stanford and/or Ivy League schools. Don't assume we're idiots.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm

A few items from an article on aging drivers and the hazard they present: Web Link

"Fatality rates for drivers begin to climb after age 65, according to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, based on data from 1999-2004. From ages 75 to 84, the rate of about three deaths per 100 million miles driven is equal to the death rate of teenage drivers. For drivers 85 and older, the fatality rate skyrockets to nearly four times higher than that for teens."

"The numbers are particularly daunting at a time when the U.S. Census Bureau projects there will be 9.6 million people 85 and older by 2030, up 73% from today. Road safety analysts predict that by 2030, when all baby boomers are at least 65, they will be responsible for 25% of all fatal crashes. In 2005, 11% of fatal crashes involved drivers that old"

"The only measure scientifically proven to lower the rate of fatal crashes involving elderly drivers is forcing the seniors to appear at motor vehicle departments in person to renew their licenses, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), citing a 1995 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association."

Seems pretty clear elderly drivers are a hazard that needs to be addressed and soon.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Pro Boomer -- Take a Demography course or just use Wikipedia. The Baby Boom = the cohort of Americans born during 1945-64.

The "degrees from Stanford and/or Ivy League schools" crack is unwarranted and rather snide.

Note: Although I live 4 miles from the University, I am a retired Boomer, I have a Ph.D. from UC

Posted by Susan Smithe, a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jan 12, 2013 at 5:20 am

What I notice about folks deep into the maturation process is how closely the choice to drive is related to a concept of freedom....What would help would be a much better public transit system which pulls teen & aging drivers in. The is the problem of delegating public transportation to the County, instead of local communities, who know their own needs better.

Posted by pro boomer, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 12, 2013 at 11:29 am

Neighbor, what on earth have I said that suggested I did not know that boomers encompass the cohort born between 1946 and 1964? No need to assume that your fellow posters are morons. (Wikipedia! Is that how Ph.Ds do research at the UCs?) My point was that 2013's octogenarians are not part of the baby boomer generation, even if the gen Ys want to believe that all evil in the world emanates from the boomers.

By 2030, we'll be using robotic vehicles, and there will be no accidents caused by inexperienced teens or blind seniors. Time to say goodbye to the 20th century fixation with the automobile. Even an old boomer like me (who still has kids who aren't old enough to drive, so I don't have much choice but to ferry them around) has the foresight to see that.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Susan Smithe is right. I feel for the elderly drivers because it's hard to give up freedoms like driving. But the pro boomer comments are ridiculous in that they refuse to acknowledge what this editorial is about: that we have an aging population, so these dangers to the drivers & the public will increase.

Just this morning, I was stuck behind a terrible driver & after awhile, I was able to see he was quite elderly. He was not just elderly, he was also distracted. Scary stuff. He was definitely doing what my dad calls DWO - Driving While Old.

This will be a growing problem, w/the population increase as well as population density in this area.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2013 at 1:54 pm

ProBoomer: Sorry about the Wikipedia reference -- I thought it was a reference you would be able to understand.

Posted by Westside Trucker, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 14, 2013 at 11:12 am

You all will get old someday. Remember that when they want you to park your Porsche and Audi.

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